Friedman and Bruni

June 21, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom asks “Where Did ‘We the People’ Go?”  He says we’re having crises of truth, division and authority.  Frank Effing Bruni, who really should go back to reviewing restaurants, as seen fit to inform us that “After Georgia Election, Democrats Are Demoralized, Again” and that Jon Ossoff’s defeat will test the party’s spirit and its strategy.  Of course he neglects to mention that Handel was one of the primary leaders in the Republican strategy to disenfranchise as many potential Democratic voters as possible.  (Although I suppose it’s possible that she was doing that while he was off reviewing eateries and couldn’t be bothered to find out.)  Frankie, here’s a large plate of salted rat dicks just for you.  Here’s TMOW:

A few days ago I was at a conference in Montreal, and a Canadian gentleman, trying to grasp what’s happening to America, asked me a simple question: “What do you fear most these days?”

I paused for a second, like a spectator waiting to see what would come out of my own mouth. Two things came out: “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It used to be that people didn’t want their kids to marry one of “them,” referring to someone of a different religion or race (bad enough). Now the “them” is someone of a different party.

When a liberal comedian poses with a mock severed head of Donald Trump, when the president’s own son, Eric Trump, says of his father’s Democratic opponents, “To me, they’re not even people,” you know that you are heading to a dark place.

So when I got home, I called my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, author of the book “How” and C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies and leaders build ethical cultures, and asked him what he thought was happening to us.

“What we’re experiencing is an assault on the very foundations of our society and democracy — the twin pillars of truth and trust,” Seidman responded. “What makes us Americans is that we signed up to have a relationship with ideals that are greater than us and with truths that we agreed were so self-evident they would be the foundation of our shared journey toward a more perfect union — and of respectful disagreement along the way. We also agreed that the source of legitimate authority to govern would come from ‘We the people.’”

But when there is no “we” anymore, because “we” no longer share basic truths, Seidman argued, “then there is no legitimate authority and no unifying basis for our continued association.”

We’ve had breakdowns in truth and trust before in our history, but this feels particularly dangerous because it is being exacerbated by technology and Trump.

Social networks and cyberhacking are helping extremists to spread vitriol and fake news at a speed and breadth we have never seen before. “Today, we’re not just deeply divided, as we’ve been before, we’re being actively divided — by cheap tools that make it so easy to broadcast one’s own ‘truths’ and to undermine real ones,” Seidman argued.

This anger industry is now “either sending us into comfortable echo chambers where we don’t see the other or arousing such moral outrage in us toward the other that we can no longer see their humanity, let alone embrace them as fellow Americans with whom we share values.”

Social networks and hacking also “have enabled us to see, in full color, into the innermost workings of every institution and into the attitudes of those who run them,” noted Seidman, “and that has eroded trust in virtually every institution, and the authority of many leaders, because people don’t like what they see.”

With shared truth debased and trust in leaders diminished, we now face a full-blown “crisis of authority itself,” argued Seidman, who distinguishes between “formal authority” and “moral authority.”

While our system can’t function without leaders with formal authority, what makes it really work, he added, is “when leaders occupying those formal positions — from business to politics to schools to sports — have moral authority. Leaders with moral authority understand what they can demand of others and what they must inspire in them. They also understand that formal authority can be won or seized, but moral authority has to be earned every day by how they lead. And we don’t have enough of these leaders.”

In fact, we have so few we’ve forgotten what they look like. Leaders with moral authority have several things in common, said Seidman: “They trust people with the truth — however bright or dark. They’re animated by values — especially humility — and principles of probity, so they do the right things, especially when they’re difficult or unpopular. And they enlist people in noble purposes and onto journeys worthy of their dedication.”

Think how far away Trump is from that definition. In Trump we not only have a president who can’t lead us out of this crisis — because he has formal authority but no moral authority — but a president who is every day through Twitter a one-man accelerator of the erosion of truth and trust eating away at our society.

We saw that play out between Trump and James Comey, the F.B.I. director.

There’s an adage, explained Seidman, that says: “Ask for my honesty and I’ll give you my loyalty. Ask for my loyalty and I’ll give you my honesty.” But Trump was not interested in Comey’s honesty. He only wanted Comey’s blind loyalty — delivered free because Trump thought he had the formal authority to demand it. “But true loyalty can’t be commanded; it can only be inspired,” said Seidman.

Alas, Trump is not going to get any better and the technology is not going to get any slower. It is imperative, in the short run, that some moral leaders emerge in the G.O.P. and actually restrain Trump. But that’s doubtful.

But the upside of today’s political-technology platform is that leaders can come out of anywhere — fast. Look at the new president of France. In the long run, the only thing that will save us is if more people — no matter what age, color, gender or faith — build moral authority in their respective realms and then use it to do big, meaningful things. Use it to run for office, start a company, operate a school, lead a movement or build a community organization. And in so doing you can help put the “We” back in “We the people.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni’s piece of crap:

Make no mistake: Democrats were swimming against the current in Georgia. The House seat that their sights were on had been safely in Republican hands for nearly four decades. Georgia’s Sixth District is purple only if you scrunch your eyes just so. If you un-scrunch them and look at it honestly, it’s red.

So the question isn’t what happened on Tuesday, when Karen Handel, the Republican candidate, prevailed over Jon Ossoff, the Democrat, in a special election with stakes and resonance well beyond the district’s parameters.

The question is what happens next. How do Democrats buoy their spirits, maintain their ardor and press on?

They ached for this seat. They fought for it fiercely. They reasoned that Ossoff had a real chance: Donald Trump, after all, won this district by just 1.5 percentage points. Donations for Ossoff flooded in, helping to make this the most expensive House race in history by far.

Democrats came up empty-handed nonetheless. So a party sorely demoralized in November is demoralized yet again — and left to wonder if the intense anti-Trump passion visible in protests, marches, money and new volunteers isn’t just some theatrical, symbolic, abstract thing.

When will it yield fruit? Where will it translate into results? And at what point will Trump be held accountable for a presidency that, so far, has been clumsier and more chaotic than even many of his detractors warned that it would be?

With Handel’s victory, Trump caught an enormous break and got fresh hope for his stalled legislative agenda. As he tries to persuade moderate Republicans to support a deeply flawed, broadly unpopular and ridiculously secrecy-shrouded health care bill, he can and will point to the outcome of the Georgia race, in which Handel sided with him and Ossoff pilloried her for it.

Republicans who have been agitated about the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and the president’s low approval ratings will be calmed somewhat, strengthening Trump’s hand.

And G.O.P. leaders and strategists will feel reassured that the party isn’t tethered entirely to Trump’s fortunes and, when it mobilizes its resources, can transcend his failings and all the melodrama he stirs up. In the final weeks of the Georgia race, outside Republican groups poured millions into the contest and worked feverishly to turn out the vote for Handel. Those frantic efforts obviously paid off.

Although her fumbles were many and her charisma in limited supply, she fashioned a model for how a Republican in a district that isn’t a ready-made Trump stronghold lurches across the finish line: by being with him and without him at the same time. Handel’s bid was mesmerizingly conflicted.

I’ve watched many campaigns I’d describe as moronic. Hers was oxymoronic.

She held a fund-raiser with Vice President Mike Pence — but not a rally.

She backed Trump’s desired rollback of Obamacare, but during her two debates with Ossoff, she sidestepped any utterance of Trump’s name to a point where Jim Galloway, a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, cracked that “the clothes have no emperor.”

“Let us be clear,” Galloway wrote in an analysis of the first debate. “There is a 70-year-old man with a battleship of a comb-over named Donald Trump, and he lives in the White House. He really, truly exists.”

Galloway was in fact noting that Ossoff, too, tended to steer away from Trump talk, and that will be discussed extensively and debated furiously in the days, weeks and months to come, as Democrats second-guess his approach and plot a path forward.

The party has been bitterly divided over whether that route should veer toward the left, which is where Bernie Sanders is beckoning it, or toward the center. Ossoff chose the latter, electing not to put his chips on the demonization of Trump, lest he offend all the district voters who had put faith in the president. His positions, in aggregate, were moderate.

I think that was the right call, given the demographics of this district, in the northern Atlanta suburbs. It’s no lefty enclave.

My guess is that Handel’s success owed a great deal to the assertiveness with which Republicans painted Ossoff as a liberal puppet, ready to have Nancy Pelosi pull his strings. Because he’s just 30, had a paltry record to invoke and seemed to be getting ahead of himself by running in a district in which he wasn’t even residing, he was ripe to be defined — and caricatured — by the other side.

That’s one lesson to take away from this: Candidates matter. And Ossoff’s defeat may make it more difficult for Democrats to recruit the best ones for the equally tough House races to come. Those ditherers craved encouragement, as did the party. It eludes all of them still.

STFU and sit the fuck down, Frank.

Bobo. Just Bobo.

June 20, 2017

In “Let’s Not Get Carried Away” Bobo scolds us and says we should be wary of sinking into the politics of scandal. It won’t make us, America, or this administration’s governance any better.  Here’s his POS:

I was the op-ed editor at The Wall Street Journal at the peak of the Whitewater scandal. We ran a series of investigative pieces “raising serious questions” (as we say in the scandal business) about the nefarious things the Clintons were thought to have done back in Arkansas.

Now I confess I couldn’t follow all the actual allegations made in those essays. They were six jungles deep in the weeds. But I do remember the intense atmosphere that the scandal created. A series of bombshell revelations came out in the media, which seemed monumental at the time. A special prosecutor was appointed and indictments were expected. Speculation became the national sport.

In retrospect Whitewater seems overblown. And yet it has to be confessed that, at least so far, the Whitewater scandal was far more substantive than the Russia-collusion scandal now gripping Washington.

There may be a giant revelation still to come. But as the Trump-Russia story has evolved, it is striking how little evidence there is that any underlying crime occurred — that there was any actual collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russians. Everything seems to be leaking out of this administration, but so far the leaks about actual collusion are meager.

There were some meetings between Trump officials and some Russians, but so far no more than you’d expect from a campaign that was publicly and proudly pro-Putin. And so far nothing we know of these meetings proves or even indicates collusion.

I’m not saying there shouldn’t be an investigation into potential Russia-Trump links. Russia’s attack on American democracy was truly heinous, and if the Trump people were involved, that would be treason. I’m saying first, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume that this link exists.

Second, there is something disturbingly meta about this whole affair. This is, as Yuval Levin put it, an investigation about itself. Trump skeptics within the administration laid a legal minefield all around the president, and then Trump — being Trump — stomped all over it, blowing himself up six ways from Sunday.

Now of course Trump shouldn’t have tweeted about Oval Office tape recordings. Of course he shouldn’t have fired James Comey.

But even if you took a paragon of modern presidents — a contemporary Abraham Lincoln — and you directed a democratically unsupervised, infinitely financed team of prosecutors at him and gave them power to subpoena his staff and look under any related or unrelated rock in an attempt to bring him down, there’s a pretty good chance you could spur even this modern paragon to want to fight back. You could spur even him to do something that had the whiff of obstruction.

There’s just something worrisome every time we find ourselves replacing politics of democracy with the politics of scandal. In democracy, the issues count, and you try to win by persuasion. You recognize that your opponents are legitimate, that they will always be there and that some form of compromise is inevitable.

In the politics of scandal, at least since Watergate, you don’t have to engage in persuasion or even talk about issues. Political victories are won when you destroy your political opponents by catching them in some wrongdoing. You get seduced by the delightful possibility that your opponent will be eliminated. Politics is simply about moral superiority and personal destruction.

The politics of scandal is delightful for cable news. It’s hard to build ratings arguing about health insurance legislation. But it’s easy to build ratings if you are a glorified Court TV, if each whiff of scandal smoke generates hours of “Breaking News” intensity and a deluge of speculation from good-looking former prosecutors.

The politics is great for those forces responsible for the lawyerization of American life. It takes power out of the hands of voters and elected officials and puts power in the hands of prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The politics of scandal drives a wedge through society. Political elites get swept up in the scandals. Most voters don’t really care.

Donald Trump rose peddling the politics of scandal — oblivious to policy, spreading insane allegations about birth certificates and other things — so maybe it’s just that he gets swallowed by it. But frankly, on my list of reasons Trump is unfit for the presidency, the Russia-collusion story ranks number 971, well below, for example, the perfectly legal ways he kowtows to thugs and undermines the norms of democratic behavior.

The people who hype the politics of scandal don’t make American government purer. They deserve some of the blame for an administration and government too distracted to do its job, for a political culture that is both shallower and nastier, and for fostering a process that looks like an elite game of entrapment.

Things are so bad that I’m going to have to give Trump the last word. On June 15 he tweeted, “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story.” Unless there is some new revelation, that may turn out to be pretty accurate commentary.

You’d think he’d be tired of carrying water for Mein Fubar by now…

Blow and Krugman

June 19, 2017

In “Trump Is Girding for a Fight” Mr. Blow says Trump and team are attempting to defame and delegitimize the Russia investigation.  Prof. Krugman considers “Zombies, Vampires and Republicans” and when Trump is just an ignorant bystander.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his widening investigation seems to be closing in on Donald Trump and his coterie of corruption, but Trump and his emissaries aren’t sitting idly by. They’re girding for a fight.

Last week The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that Mueller was widening his investigation to include “an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.”

This set Trump off. As the sun rose on Thursday morning, he posted the first of what would be a daylong barrage of statements on Twitter, attacking the “phony story”; later he lamented “crooked H” and “Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia.”

But that wasn’t enough.

He started up again Friday morning, this time posting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”

This seemed like an acknowledgment that he was indeed under investigation. But on Sunday, the Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made the talk show rounds to insist that what the president wrote was not what the president meant. Sekulow stated emphatically, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.”

Whatever the truth may be, Trump is certainly behaving like a man who is under scrutiny and like one who is determined to defend himself every step of the way.

Last week it was reported that Mueller hired more than a dozen lawyers for his team, but as soon as he did, they came under attack by Trump cronies like Newt Gingrich. On Sunday on ABC, Gingrich issued a blistering attack on some of the lawyers Mueller has hired, suggesting Mueller stacked the deck with Democratic mercenaries out to get the president for political reasons.

At one point in the interview, Gingrich claimed:

“You tell me why the first four names that came up, I don’t know about the next nine, the first four names are all people who gave to Democrats. Two of them are people with a record of hiding evidence from the defense. And one of them is a person who defended the Clinton Foundation. Now in this environment with a Justice Department where 97 percent of the donations last year went to Hillary, 97 percent, explain to me why I should relax as a Republican.”

This was a stinging about-face from when Gingrich praised Mueller when he was selected. Host Martha Raddatz pointed this out: “In May you said he was a superb choice for special counsel with an impeccable reputation for honesty. Less than a month later, you say he won’t be fair.”

But that’s the thing with Trump and his hangers-on: They will say and do anything, even if it directly contradicts what they said or did moments earlier. This is how truth becomes degraded: by being casually disregarded.

This investigation is in the early stages, but Trump has no plans to wait for it to either condemn or clear him. He is taking a much more aggressive approach, one that in the end may do more harm than good.

He is attempting to defame, discredit and delegitimize.

Trump knows that whether anything from this investigation sees the light of day in a court of law, the investigation is already being litigated in the court of public opinion. In that court, he’s already guilty.

Trump’s public petulance about being mistreated is in fact a public appeal, in order to rehabilitate his brand.

If a legal case against Trump is born of this investigation, Trump is no stranger to a courtroom.

As USA Today reported last year, Trump has been involved in over 3,500 legal matters, which was an unprecedented number for an American presidential nominee.

Trump often prevails. As USA Today put it: “Among those cases with a clear resolution, Trump’s side was the apparent victor in 451 and the loser in 38. In about 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against Trump.”

Trump knows that the law can be fuzzy and the legal system pliable, bending in particular under the weight of massive resources like money.

Fighting has worked well for Trump. He knows that one of the critical flaws in American jurisprudence is that it too often favors fight over right.

So Trump will fight this investigation that he calls a “witch hunt,” because he realizes that it is a sprawling inquiry, potentially ending up far afield from where it started.

Mueller is not in search of a conjurer but a culprit, and he’ll shine a light in every dark corner to find one.

Gingrich told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Friday of the investigation:

“They’re going to get somebody. I don’t think they’re going to get the president, but they’re going to get somebody, and they’re going to get him for something. And they’re probably going to go to jail.”

I agree: When federal investigators start looking for something, they often find something. I’m not removing the president so quickly from jeopardy.

The president and his White House are going to fight this tooth and nail, but in the end “someone is probably going to go to jail.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Zombies have long ruled the Republican Party. The good news is that they may finally be losing their grip — although they may still return and resume eating conservative brains. The bad news is that even if zombies are in retreat, vampires are taking their place.

What are these zombies of which I speak? Among wonks, the term refers to policy ideas that should have been abandoned long ago in the face of evidence and experience, but just keep shambling along.

The right’s zombie-in-chief is the insistence that low taxes on the rich are the key to prosperity. This doctrine should have died when Bill Clinton’s tax hike failed to cause the predicted recession and was followed instead by an economic boom. It should have died again when George W. Bush’s tax cuts were followed by lackluster growth, then a crash. And it should have died yet again in the aftermath of the 2013 Obama tax hike — partly expiration of some Bush tax cuts, partly new taxes to pay for Obamacare — when the economy continued jogging along, adding 200,000 jobs a month.

Despite the consistent wrongness of their predictions, however, tax-cut fanatics just kept gaining influence in the G.O.P. — until the disaster in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback promised that deep tax cuts would yield an economic miracle. What the state got instead was weak growth and a fiscal crisis, finally pushing even Republicans to vote for tax hikes, overruling Brownback’s veto.

Will this banish the tax-cut zombie? Maybe — although the economists behind the Kansas debacle, who have of course learned nothing, appear to be the principal movers behind the Trump tax plan, such as it is.

But even as the zombies move offstage, vampire policies — so-called not so much because of their bloodsucking nature, although that too, as because they can’t survive daylight — have taken their place.

Consider what’s happening right now on health care.

Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.

This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they’re trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won’t be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”

Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they’re voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.

Why this combination of secrecy and speed? Obviously, this legislation can’t survive sunlight — and I’m by no means the first to make the analogy with vampires.

This is unprecedented. Ignore Republican lies about how Obamacare was passed: the Affordable Care Act went through extensive discussion, and Democrats were always very clear about what they were trying to do and how they were trying to do it.

When it comes to the Republican replacement for Obamacare, however, it’s not just the process that’s secretive; so is the purpose. Vox.com asked eight Republican senators what problem the legislation is supposed to solve, and how it’s supposed to solve it. Not one offered a coherent answer.

Of course, none brought up the one obvious payoff to taking health care away from millions: a big tax cut for the wealthy. As I said, while bloodsucking isn’t the main reason to call this a vampire policy, it’s part of the picture.

Oh, and one more point: What’s going down isn’t just unprecedented, it’s unpresidented. You can blame Donald Trump for many things, including the fact that he will surely sign whatever bad bill is put in front of him. But as far as health care is concerned, he’s just an ignorant bystander, who all evidence suggests has little if any idea what’s actually in Trumpcare. Maybe he’s too busy yelling at his TV to find out.

So this isn’t a Trump story; it’s about the cynicism and corruption of the whole congressional G.O.P. Remember, it would take just a few conservatives with conscience — specifically, three Republican senators — to stop this outrage in its tracks. But right now, it looks as if those principled Republicans don’t exist.

Krugman’s blog, 6/16/17

June 17, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “The Silence of the Hacks:”

The actual text of the Senate version of Trumpcare is still a secret, even from almost all the Senators who are expected to vote for it. But that’s actually a secondary issue: never mind the precise details, what’s the organizing idea? What is the bill supposed to do, and how is it supposed to do it?

The answer — which I’ve been suggesting for a while — is that they have no idea, and more broadly, no ideas in general. Now Vox confirms this, by interviewing a series of Republican senators:

With the bill’s text still not released for public view, Vox asked GOP senators to explain their hopes for it. Who will benefit from the legislation? What problems is this bill trying to solve?

The answers, universally, were “Er. Ah. Um.”

Time was when even the worst legislation came with some kind of justification, when you could count on the hacks at Heritage to explain why eating children will encourage entrepreneurship, or something. On the right, these explanations have descended into ever deeper voodoo; the Kansas experiment was based on obvious nonsense, and has turned out even worse than cynics might have suggested. And you might have thought that this was as bad as it can get.

But now we have legislation that will change the lives of millions, and they haven’t even summoned the usual suspects to explain what a great idea it is. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, Republicans have decided that even that’s too much; they’re going to try to pass legislation that takes from the poor and gives to the rich without even trying to offer a justification.

And they’ll try to do it by dead of night, of course.

This has nothing to do with Trump, who is, as I’ve been saying, an ignorant bystander — yes, he’s betraying every promise he made, but what else is new? It’s about Congressional Republicans.

Which Congressional Republicans? All of them. Remember, three senators who cared even a bit about substance, legislative process, and just plain honesty with the public, could stop this. So far, it doesn’t look as if there are those three senators.

This is a level of corruption that’s hard to fathom. Yet it’s the reality of one of our two parties.

 

Bobo. Just Bobo.

June 16, 2017

Oh, gawd…  Bobo has decided to mansplain to us all about “Why Fathers Leave Their Children.”  He stifles a sob and tells us that it’s not because they don’t care.  “SW” from Massachusetts will have a few words for Bobo…  Here’s Bobo mansplaining stuff:

Millions of poor children and teenagers grow up without their biological father, and often when you ask them about it, you hear a litany of male barbarism. You hear teens describe how their dad used to beat up their mom, how an absent father had five kids with different women and abandoned them all.

The children’s tales often reinforce the standard image we have of the deadbeat dad — the selfish cad who spreads his seed and leaves generations of wreckage in his wake.

Yet when you ask absent fathers themselves, you get a different picture. You meet guys who desperately did not want to leave their children, who swear they have tried to be with them, who may feel unworthy of fatherhood but who don’t want to be the missing dad their own father was.

In truth, when fathers abandon their own children, it’s not a momentary decision; it’s a long, tragic process. A number of researchers have tried to understand how father abandonment happens, most importantly Kathryn Edin and Timothy J. Nelson, who moved to Philadelphia and Camden, N.J., immersed themselves in the neighborhoods there and produced an amazing account, “Doing the Best I Can.”

Pregnancy is rarely planned among the populations they studied. Typically the parents are in a semi-relationship that is somewhere between a one-night stand and an actual boyfriend-girlfriend bond. The couple use contraception at the beginning, but when it becomes understood they are “together,” they stop. They don’t really talk about pregnancy, but they sort of make it possible.

When the men learn that their partner is pregnant, they don’t panic, or lament all the freedom they are going to miss. On the contrary, three-quarters of the men in Edin and Nelson’s research were joyous at the news. The men are less likely than the women to want to end the pregnancy with an abortion.

These guys have often had a lot of negativity in their lives. The child is a chance to turn things around and live a disciplined life. The child is a chance to have a respected role, to find love and purpose.

The men at this stage are filled with earnest resolve. They begin to take the relationship more seriously and commit to the kid during infancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black single fathers are more involved in their kids’ lives than white single fathers at this stage.

The key weakness is not the father’s bond to the child; it’s the parents’ bond with each other. They usually went into this without much love or sense of commitment. The fathers often retain a traditional and idealistic “Leave It to Beaver” view of marriage. They dream of the perfect soul mate. They know this woman isn’t it, so they are still looking.

Buried in the rigors of motherhood, the women, meanwhile, take a very practical view of what they need in a man: Will this guy provide the financial stability I need, and if not, can I trade up to someone who will?

The father begins to perceive the mother as bossy, just another authority figure to be skirted. Run-ins with drugs, the law and other women begin to make him look even more disreputable in her eyes.

By the time the child is 1, half these couples have split up, and many of the rest will part ways soon after. Suddenly there’s a new guy living in the house, a man who resents the old one. The father redefines his role. He no longer aims to be the provider and caregiver, just the occasional “best friend” who can drop by and provide a little love. This is a role he has a shot at fulfilling, but it destroys parental responsibility.

He believes in fatherhood and tries it again with other women, with the same high hopes, but he’s really only taking care of the child he happens to be living with at any given moment. The rest are abandoned.

The good news, especially from the Edin-Nelson research, is that the so-called deadbeat dads want to succeed as fathers. Their goals and values point them in the right direction, but they’re stuck in a formless romantic anarchy. They need help finding the practical bridges to help them get where they want to go.

People are rising up to provide that help. In Chicago the poet Harold Green has been championing fatherhood. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a vocal leader in this cause, had Green recite his poem “Something to Live For” at his inaugural in 2015, and this Sunday the two of them will be appearing together to honor role model fathers on the South Side.

It would be great if society could rally around the six or seven key bridges on the path to fatherhood. For example, find someone you love before you have intercourse. Or, make sure you want to spend years with this partner before you get off the pill. Or, create a couple’s budget to make sure you can afford this.

The stable two-parent family is what we want. A few economic support programs and a confident social script could make an enormous difference in getting us there.

As someone who was raised by just my mother in NYC after my father split for California and never sent a dime of child support allow me to cordially offer Bobo a yoooge plate of salted rat dicks.  Here’s what “SW” has to say to him:

“Because they can.

My father, a Republican lawmaker with a Master’s degree, walked out on my mother and five children because he found a fancier model. He never sent child support. He never said goodbye and never saw one of the children again, who died in a car accident seventeen years later.

A few of his friends were appalled. Most just shrugged. My mother moved to another state to be near her parents, who helped her.

They do it because they can. Even forty years ago, society allowed it to happen with few consequences for the male.

Here’s a question, Mr. Brooks. Why do mothers rarely leave their children?
Because they can’t — or for a deeper reason? It’s a question as old as time.”

Krugman’s blog, 6/14/17

June 15, 2017

There was one post yesterday:  “A Finger Exercise On Hyperglobalization:”

The days when surging world trade was the big story seem like a long time ago. For one thing, trade has stopped surging, and seems to have plateaued. For another, we have more pressing issues, like the rise of authoritarianism and the attempt to sabotage health care.

But I recently gave a presentation on trade issues, have been playing around with them again, and anyway want to take occasional breaks from the horror of today’s political economy. So I find myself trying to find simple ways to talk about “hyperglobalization,” the surge in trade from around 1990 to the eve of the Great Recession. None of the underlying ideas is new, but maybe some people will find the exposition helpful.

The idea here is to think about the effects of transport costs and other barriers to trade pretty much the same way trade economists have long thought about “effective protection.”

This concept was introduced mainly as a way to understand what was really happening in countries attempting import-substituting industrialization. The idea was something like this: consider what happens if a country places a tariff on car imports, but not on imports of auto parts. What it’s really protecting, then, is the activity of auto assembly, making it profitable even if costs are higher than they are abroad. And the extent to which those costs can be higher can easily be much bigger than the tariff rate.

Suppose, for example, that you put a 20% tariff on cars, but can import parts that account for half the value of an imported car. Then assembling cars becomes worth doing even if it costs 40% more in your country than in the potential exporter: a nominal 20% tariff becomes a 40% effective rate of protection.

Now let’s switch the story around, and talk about a good an emerging market might be able to export to an advanced economy. Let’s say that in the advanced country it costs 100 to produce this good, of which 50 is intermediate inputs and 50 assembly. The emerging market, we’ll assume, can’t produce the inputs, but could do the assembly using imported inputs. There are, however, transport costs – say 10% of the value of any goods shipped.

If we were talking only about trade in final goods, this would mean that the emerging market could export if its costs were 10% less – 91, in this case. But we’ve assumed that it can’t do the whole process. It can do the assembly, and will if its final costs including inputs are less than 91. But the inputs will cost 55 because of transport. And this means that to make exporting work it must have costs less than 91-55=36, compared with 50 in the advanced country.

That is, to overcome 10% transport costs this assembly operation must be 38% cheaper than in the advanced country.

But this in turn means that even a seemingly small decline in transport costs could have a large effect on the location of production, because it drastically reduces the production cost advantage emerging markets need to have. And it leads to an even more disproportionate effect on the volume of trade, because it leads to a sharp increase in shipments of intermediate goods as well as final goods. That is, we get a lot of “value chain” trade.

This, I think, is what happened after 1990, partly because of containerization, partly because of trade liberalization in developing countries. But it’s also looking more and more like a one-time thing.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled Trump coverage.

I’d pay money just to shake his hand…

Blow and Collins

June 15, 2017

Sorry I’m late, but here we go…  In “Rhetoric and Bullets” Mr. Blow says our talk should never promote violence, but it needn’t be timid.  Ms. Collins, in “Play Ball, and Then Gunfire,” says the shooting at the congressional baseball practice was awful, but every week we hear bloodier stories.  Well, Gail, this time white Republicans were victims.  But it’s never About Race or About Politics, because nothing is EVER About Race or About Politics.  (Well, unless it’s about the Democrats doing something reprehensible…)  Or rational gun laws…   Here’s Mr. Blow:

In 2011, after Representative Gabby Giffords of Arizona was gravely injured and six others were killed by a shooter in Tucson, I was moved to commit an entire column to condemning the left for linking the shooting so closely to political rhetoric.

Yes, Republican personalities and officials in the wake of Barack Obama’s election had spoken openly about “Second Amendment remedies” and being “armed and dangerous” and “revolution,” but it was not possible to connect the dots between that irresponsible talk and the Tucson shooter.

Now, here I am again, only this time extending the same condemnation to the right for doing the same after four people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, were shot at an Alexandria, Va., baseball field where Republican members of Congress were practicing in advance of a charity game.

The shooter, identified as James T. Hodgkinson, appears to have had strong liberal, anti-Trump, anti-Republican views — among other things, he was a volunteer with the Bernie Sanders campaign — but at the time of this writing, authorities had not announced a motive for the shooting.

The very real possibility that the shooting was politically motivated was clearly on the minds of many, including Representative Rodney Davis, Republican of Illinois, who was at the baseball field during the shooting: “This could be the first political rhetorical terrorist attack, and that has to stop.”

Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with viewing these incidents through a political lens. Not to do so is naïve and ridiculously self-blinding in a way that avoids reality.

As Katy Waldman wrote for Slate last June:

“Things that happen for political reasons, and have political consequences, demand that we scrutinize them through a political lens. Crying ‘politicization’ is itself politicization — a way to advance whatever slate of politics favors the status quo. Often people invoke policy goals in order to get things done; what’s at stake is whether these tragedies should be regarded as irreducible lightning strikes or problems with potential solutions.”

What I abhor is ideological exploitation that reduces these acts to a political sport and uses them as weapons to silence political opponents and their “rhetoric,” rather than viewing them as American tragedies that we can work together to prevent through honest appraisal and courageous action. Every shooting in this country is a tragedy, and they happen with disturbing frequency here.

As The Washington Post reported, Wednesday’s shooting was the 154th mass shooting so far this year in America. That’s 154 mass shootings in just 165 days. Violence, particularly gun violence, is the American fact, the American shame.

This country has a violent culture, is full of guns, and our federal lawmakers — mostly Republicans, it must be said, because there isn’t any real equivalency — are loath to even moderately regulate gun access.

Pretending that America’s gun violence is a function of collective political rhetoric rather than the nexus of personal mental defect and easy access to weapons is a way of dodging, well, the bullet.

So, here I must take a stand in defense of rhetoric. While rhetoric should never promote violence, it needn’t be timid.

I was impressed by the official responses from Washington. Even Trump’s response was sober and direct, not marred by his typical lack of tact, not like the way he tried to exploit the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year. House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a stately speech from the House floor, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed his sentiments in a noble act of bipartisanship.

At the top, the responses were pitch perfect, but the political debate isn’t confined to the top. It trickles down into the cesspool of social media, which has grown exponentially since Giffords was shot. At that time, Facebook had only about a third of its current number of users, Twitter had about a fifth of its current users, Instagram was just three months old, and Snapchat didn’t exist.

On social media, where anonymity provides cover for vitriol, violent threats are a regular feature.

When Gabby Giffords wrote on Twitter, “My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police – public servants and heroes today and every day,” she was met with a sickening number of hateful responses, including one that said, “To bad it was not her.” (Yes, it should have been “too,” but grammar isn’t a major concern in a statement that grotesque.)

It is true that political rhetoric can set a tone that greases the skids for a small number of people who are prone to violence to act on those impulses. We have just gone through a political cycle where that was on full display.

But some rhetoric is necessary and real. I believe Donald Trump and the Republican-led Congress are attempting to do very serious harm to the country and its most vulnerable citizens, and I will never stop saying so in the strongest terms I can summon. For many people, this isn’t an abstract policy debate between partisans. For them, these debates — about repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example — are about life and death. But that has nothing to do with the promotion of physical violence; it has everything to do with protecting this country from administrative and legislative violence.

We have to object stridently to proposals that will hurt people, and not be chilled by a deranged man with a gun. Violence is abhorrent and self-defeating, but vociferous resistance to national damage has nothing to do with that violence and must continue unabated.

You can, as I do, have sympathy for the victims of yesterday’s shooting and condemn the shooter, while at the same time raging, nonviolently of course, against an agenda that places other Americans in very real danger.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

When a gunman opened fire on a congressional baseball practice Wednesday, everyone in Washington looked for a positive message. There had to be a point to something so awful. The consensus was for Coming Together.

“For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family,” Speaker Paul Ryan told the House.

“You’re going to hear me say something you never heard me say before,” rejoined Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “I identify myself with the remarks of the speaker.”

“We are strongest when we are unified and when we work together for the common good,” said Donald Trump.

This was regarded as one of Trump’s better presidential moments. He didn’t insult anyone, the way he did after the London terrorist attack. He didn’t suggest that in the future, all baseball players should be armed. And let’s hope it lasts. Since the gunman, James Hodgkinson, was known back home in Illinois as a vehement Trump critic, the president could definitely regress back into making the tragedy all about Donald.

But truthfully, American politics has been mean and verbally violent for a lot longer than Donald Trump’s been in the White House. Pelosi — who’s often depicted as the archvillain in Republican campaign ads — has been getting death threats for years. Back in 2010 a San Francisco man admitted to making more than 30 phone calls to Pelosi and her family, threatening to kill her or blow up her house if she voted for health care reform.

Ironically, the practice Hodgkinson’s bullets interrupted was for a ballgame that’s a lonely throwback to the good old days of political congeniality, when people from both parties would debate during the day and then go off to drink together after work. The drinking thing is pretty much over. But the representatives and senators do still get together every year to yell good-natured insults at each other and play ball, Democrats against Republicans.

Even better, there’s a bipartisan women’s softball team that has its own game every year: lawmakers versus reporters from the D.C. press corps.

“It’s really one of the best things we do,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the veteran players.

Gillibrand has a keen memory of the day all the team’s players signed a ball for her good friend Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 while holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a shopping center.

“I’m not shocked or surprised this happened. I lived through this once before,” Gillibrand said. “We’re in a violent time. We’ve seen Sandy Hook, we’ve seen such horrible gun violence in our communities for a very long time.”

The women’s game is next week. “We’ll play,” the senator said. “We’re meant to carry on our lives.”

Creating more comity in Washington is a good goal. (So, by the way, is getting more women in Congress.) But if we’re looking to the congressional shooting for lessons, we also have to talk about guns.

The baseball story was awful — Representative Steve Scalise and three other people were hit by gunfire. But every week in America we hear stories that are bloodier. There were 27 incidents of multiple fatal shootings in the week before Hodgkinson took out a rifle and handgun and started firing. A couple of hours after, an aggrieved UPS employee in San Francisco shot and killed three people and wounded two others before turning the gun on himself.

We’ll be spending the next few days trying to work through Hodgkinson’s history. How did this happen? Were there any warning signs separating him from the hordes of other people who post angry diatribes about politicians? What kind of guns did he use? Where did he buy them?

“I hope this doesn’t devolve into the usual situation where you expect that any one tragedy is going to change the conversation,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. He’s been through too much of that already, and it’s true — if 20 little children can be shot in their Connecticut school without triggering national gun law reform, it’s not likely that the wounding of several adults in Virginia will do the trick.

But we’ll keep trying. To start, we need to come together on a consensus that there’s something wrong with a country in which an average of 93 people are killed with guns every day, in which gun homicides are so common that news reports frequently don’t bother to mention how the murderer obtained his weapon, and in which even multiple shootings often don’t make the national news unless there’s some suggestion the crime might be related to terrorism.

Write a letter. Call your representative. Hold a meeting. You can demand laws to keep criminals from buying guns, or laws to keep greedy gun sellers from ignoring background checks, or laws to ban rifles that allow one person to take down several dozen victims without reloading. Even if your hopes aren’t high, keep fighting. This is a righteous cause.

Krugman’s blog, 6/13/17

June 14, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Their Own Private Pyongyang:”

It was a weird scene: Trump cabinet members speaking up, one by one, to offer effusive, groveling praise to their boss. Even if the praise had been justified (in fact, Trump has achieved amazingly little), it was deeply un-American — the kind of thing you would expect to see in an authoritarian regime, not a republic where leaders are supposed to pretend to be humble servants of the people.

But it was of a piece with everything else we’ve been seeing, not just from Trump — who doesn’t have a democratic bone in his body — but from Republicans, who have so far showed themselves willing to accept any and all abuses of power, including almost comical levels of financial self-dealing. So this isn’t just a Trump story; it’s about what happened to the GOP.

I don’t have a full explanation. But surely a starting point is the realization that while America as a whole isn’t an authoritarian regime — yet — the modern Republican party in many ways is. That is, once you’ve made the decision to become Republican, you find yourself living in your own private Pyongyang.

I mean this in a couple of senses. One is that for the great majority of Congressional Republicans, loyalty to party is all that matters for their political futures. As this chart from Nate Silver shows, there are now very few swing districts, in which a Republican can lose short of a political earthquake;

This is true of Democrats too, but the Democratic party is a field of contending interest groups, while the GOP is monolithic. So if you’re a Republican politician, you care about following the party line — full stop.

But mightn’t even Republican voters turn on you if you seem too slavish to an obviously corrupt leadership? Well, where would those voters get such an idea? For all practical purposes, Republican primary voters get their news from wholly partisan media, which quite simply present a picture of the world that bears no resemblance to what independent sources are saying. Even though most Republicans in DC probably know better, their self-interest says to pretend to believe the official line.

So if you’re Representative Bomfog from a red state, your entire career depends on being an apparatchik willing to do and say anything the regime demands. Suggestions that the president’s men, and maybe the man himself, is in collusion with a foreign power? Fake news! Firing the FBI director in an obvious obstruction of justice? Let’s make excuses! Analyses suggesting that your bill will cause mass suffering? Never mind. Party loyalty is all — even if it demands humiliating displays of obsequious deference.

This is why I don’t trust claims that firing Mueller would cross some kind of red line. All indications are that there is no line.

The one thing that might cause Rs to turn on Trump would be the more or less certain prospect of a wave election so massive that even very safe seats get lost. And at the rate things are going, that could happen. But if it does, it will be nothing like a normal political process; it will be more like a revolution within the GOP, a regime change that would shatter the party establishment.

Here’s hoping.

 

Friedman and Bruni

June 14, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom, in “Solving the Korea Crisis by Teaching a Horse to Sing,” says America is the odd man out in the drama on the Korean Peninsula.  In “The Mortification of Jeff Sessions” Mr. Bruni invites us to behold the wages of drawing too close to Donald Trump.  Here’s TMOW, writing from Seoul:

Some stories have to be experienced to fully grasp — the Korea crisis is one of them. I arrived in Seoul on the evening of May 28. As I was dressing for breakfast the next morning, I was jarred by a news alert ringing on my phone: North Korea had just fired a short-range ballistic missile that had landed in the sea off its east coast.

I waited for the sirens to tell us to go to the hotel shelter, as happened when I was in Israel during a Hamas rocket attack. But there were no sirens. Nothing. The breakfast buffet was packed. The mood was: Another North Korean missile test? Oh, pay no attention to our crazy cousins. Could you pass the kimchi, please?

I was immediately reminded of my favorite quote from when I lived in Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, where people also became inured to the constant threat of violence. It was from a Beirut hostess who asked her dinner guests, “Would you like to eat now or wait for the cease-fire?”

A few hours after the missile test, two U.S. B-1B Lancer strategic bombers out of Guam flew right up to the North’s border on what North Korea called “a nuclear bomb dropping drill.” No matter. The South Korean stock market didn’t flinch.

In fact, one of the most popular housing markets for young Koreans today is Musan, located just south of the DMZ, the demilitarized zone separating the South from the North. It’s an easy commute to Seoul, and young people have gamed out that if the North launched rockets or artillery shells, they would likely go over their heads because they are so close to the border! Human beings! God love ’em. Their ability to adapt never ceases to amaze me.

I interviewed a group of South Korean college students at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, and here’s what some said: “The fear has been diluted — as time goes by you just get used to it.” “We don’t really believe that North Korea can harm us or launch war, because we think we are stronger than them economically and militarily.” “We heard the G.D.P. gap between us and North Korea is 20 times, and we don’t want to pay more taxes to fix them up.” “When I went to the U.S. I freaked out [over] why people there care more about North Korea than me.”

After a couple of days of such discussions, I realized that America is now the odd man out in this drama. Why? Because China and South Korea have one thing in common: The thing they fear most is not a North Korean nuclear missile blowing them up. It’s North Korea either blowing itself up — economically collapsing under the weight of sanctions — or being blown up by America.

That would spill refugees and fissile material into China and South Korea, presenting both with a huge cleanup bill and China with a possible united Korea with a nuclear weapon next door.

The U.S. — by contrast — now fears North Korea blowing us up, or at least Los Angeles. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Washington fears North Korea more than ever, while China and South Korea fear a unilateral U.S. strike on North Korea more than ever.

Or, as Rob Litwak, the Wilson Center Korea arms control expert, described it: Seoul’s fear that Donald Trump could draw it into a catastrophic conflict on the Korean Peninsula “brings to mind Charles de Gaulle’s admonition during the Cuban missile crisis that being a U.S. ally ran the risk of ‘annihilation without representation.’”

And that’s why the U.S. has dispatched to South Korea Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile batteries. But the new South Korean president is delaying their full deployment, fearing it will provoke the North or alienate China — which doesn’t like a U.S. antimissile system near its border that can also cover its airspace; China has imposed a partial economic boycott on Seoul to make that clear.

Chaibong Hahm, president of the Asan Institute, explained, “When North Korea started to develop weapons of mass destruction that threatened us, the U.S. tried to assure us and Japan that ‘we will protect you.’” Hahm said: “And the big question then was: ‘Is the U.S. deterrence real? Will it really protect us?’”

But when North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un also started threatening the U.S. by building a long-range nuclear missile, the story shifted for America. “It was not about reassuring us anymore but its own people,” added Hahm, “which means that Washington does not have to consult us. It can do what it needs to do.” And Trump’s America-first rhetoric only amplifies the worry here that he will. Some people “are more scared of [Trump] than Kim Jong-un,” concluded Hahm. “Kim Jong-un they understand.”

North Korea gets 95 percent of its oil from China. Beijing could shut down the North’s economy overnight by shutting off that oil. But it hasn’t. It has suspended purchases of North Korean coal, hurting Pyongyang financially, but not enough to stop missile testing. For now, it appears that China will do just enough to keep Trump at bay — by keeping North Korea from putting the last screws on a nuclear missile that can hit the U.S. — but never enough to collapse the regime or definitively end its nuclear program.

What about diplomacy? For now, North Korea shows no willingness to trade its nuclear arsenal for guarantees that the U.S. will not pursue regime change, and Trump is not going to give such guarantees without total denuclearization.

In sum, China and South Korea don’t dare starve the North for fear it could collapse. They don’t dare shoot it for fear it could shoot back. They and the Americans don’t dare negotiate with Kim for fear that they will end up blessing his nukes — and because they don’t trust him to keep any deal. And they don’t dare ignore him, because he keeps getting stronger.

So we all wait — for something.

Indeed, the whole situation reminds me of the medieval fable of the criminal hauled before the king to plead for his life and successfully does so by promising that if the king spared his life for a year he could teach the king’s favorite horse to sing.

When the criminal got back to his cell, his cellmate scoffed at him: You could never teach the king’s horse to sing if you had a lifetime. And the man said: “No matter. I have a year now that I didn’t have before. And a lot of things can happen in a year. The king might die. The horse might die. I might die. And, who knows? Maybe the horse will sing.”

And that is our North Korea policy. Waiting for something to solve this insoluble problem. Waiting for a horse to sing.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

The appearance of Jeff Sessions before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday didn’t bring us much closer to understanding what did or didn’t happen between Donald Trump and the Russians, or what the president has or hasn’t done to cover it up. Sessions batted away many questions. His answers to others were gauzy and useless.

But as I watched him, a flustered Gump in the headlights, I saw a broader story, a dark parable of bets misplaced and souls under siege. This is what happens when you draw too close to Trump.

You’re diminished at best, mortified at worst. You’ve either done work dirtier than you meant to or told fibs bigger than you ought to or been sullied by contact or been thrown to the wolves.

One day, you’re riding high on the myth of Trump as a transformative figure and reasoning that some tweaking of norms and maybe even breaking of rules are an inevitable part of the unconventional equation.

The next, you’re ensnared in his recklessness, at the mercy of his tempestuousness and quite possibly the butt of his rage: the case with Sessions, who sank low enough that he felt compelled last month to offer Trump his resignation.

“It’s just like through the looking glass: What is this?” Sessions said during his Senate testimony, and while he was alluding to the suggestion that he and the Russian ambassador had plotted together to steal a presidential election, he could just as easily have been referring to the warped topography of Trumplandia.

It’s a reputation-savaging place. Ask Rod Rosenstein for sure. Herbert McMaster, too. Also James Mattis. Sean Spicer. Reince Priebus. Rex Tillerson. Dan Coats. All have been under pressure, undercut or contradicted. They’ve been asked to pledge their fidelity to — even proclaim their adoration for — a man who adores only himself.

My God, that video, the one of the cabinet in full session at long last. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the most chilling measure yet of Trump’s narcissism, and it’s a breathtaking glimpse into what that means for the people around him.

They don’t volunteer purplish flattery like that because it’s their wont. He wants it so badly that they cough it up. To buoy his ego, they debase themselves, and what you heard them doing in that meeting wasn’t just swallowing their pride but choking on it. They looked like hostages — hostages in need of the Heimlich.

Well, most of them. Mike Pence has discovered a freaky talent for such freakish sycophancy, and called it “the greatest privilege of my life” to assist “the president who’s keeping his word to the American people.” (Which word is that?) He sounded like he believed it. The mysteries of faith, indeed.

A few others in the meeting summoned less ardor. “It’s an honor,” Mattis said, but then continued, “to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense.” Trump turned away just then, as if the absence of his name equaled the loss of his interest.

Mattis has suffered the humiliation of assuring allies of our commitment to NATO just before Trump, without warning him, sowed doubts about precisely that. McMaster, whose book “Dereliction of Duty” is expressly about talking truth to power, found himself at a lectern doing damage control for his damage-prone boss. He vouched that Trump’s divulgence of classified information to Russian officials at the White House was no big deal.

No one in Trump’s administration was forced into this service and its compromises. Some hungered for power, in whatever bastard package delivered it. At least a few, like Sessions, had poisoned reputations already.

But there were those with higher motives, too, and they find themselves in a White House governed by dread. Who’s next to be shamed? What tweet or tantrum awaits? They thought that they’d be bolstering a leader. They see now that they’re holding a grenade.

You could sense the stress of that in Sessions, who endorsed Trump before any other senator did, won the prize of attorney general but on Tuesday was the prosecuted, not the prosecutor.

At times he had a hurt, helpless air. He cried foul at the “secret innuendo being leaked out there about me.”

He called the suggestion that he’d conspired with Russia “an appalling and detestable lie.”

“I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against scurrilous and false allegations,” he declared. No, but he made it a hell of a lot harder the moment he took Trump’s hand.

For all Trump’s career and all his campaign, he played the part of Midas, claiming that everything he touched turned to gold. That was never true. This is: Almost everyone who touches him is tarnished, whether testifying or not.

Krugman’s blog, 6/11/17 and 6/12/17

June 13, 2017

Prof. Krugman may have taken some time off from his column, but he’s been busy on his blog.  There was one post on Sunday, and two yesterday.  Sunday’s post was “They Don’t Need No Information:”

I’m as riveted by Trump/Russia as everyone else. But meanwhile Trumpcare — which really has very little to do with Trump, except that he’ll sign it — appears to be marching on despite the terrible CBO score on the House version and the near-certainty that if the Senate passes anything it will be barely if at all better.

This tells you a lot about the values of the modern GOP, which will happily trade off health care for ~20 million people for tax cuts that deliver almost half their benefits to people with incomes over $1 million — fewer than 800,000 tax units.

But aside from the priorities, think about the process. The AHCA was deliberately rushed through before CBO could weigh in; the Senate GOP is working completely in secret, with no hearings, and anything it passes will surely also try to preempt the CBO.

You might think that this in part reflects conservative analyses that reach a different conclusion. But there aren’t any such analyses. Remember, OMB works for Trump; it has offered nothing. Even the Heritage Foundation, which used to be the go-to source for conservative creative accounting, hasn’t produced some implausible account of how the magic of markets will make it all work.

This is new. You might say that just as the GOP has decided to shrug off conventional concerns about ethics, it has also decided to shrug off conventional concerns about whether policies actually, you know, work.

To be sure, Republicans gave up evidence-based policymaking a long time ago. Back when Paul Ryan was pretending to be a serious policy wonk, he always started from the answer, then invented some assumptions and magic asterisks to justify that answer. Heritage has been a hack operation for many years.

But they used to at least pretend; people like Ryan weren’t actual policy experts, but they played them on TV, and gullible centrists were happy to help them maintain that pretense. Now they’re not even bothering to fake it.

And it’s hard to say with any assurance that they’ll pay a political price. After all, Obamacare was in fact the product of hard thinking — and it did a tremendous amount of good in places like, say, West Virginia, where Medicaid expansion (mainly) cut the number of uninsured by half. And in reward for this achievement, the good people of WV went Trump by 40 points.

Maybe massive losses in the midterms will convince Republicans that thinking about policy consequences is a good idea. Or maybe there will be more Kansas-type situations where even Republicans are so horrified by policy disaster that they change course. But even if these things happen eventually, what we’re seeing now is horrifying.

The first post yesterday was “We’re Not Even In Kansas Any More:”

Will the end of the Kansas tax-cut experiment — hey, that’s what Brownback himself called it, although he refused to accept the crystal-clear results of that experiment — mark a turning point in U.S. politics? Michael Tomasky thinks it might: not because it refuted supply-side fantasies, which have been refuted by experience and events again and again, but because Republicans themselves (sans Brownback) decided that enough was enough, and returned to fiscal sanity.

But I have my doubts. When I look at events in Washington, it seems to be that Republicans have moved on in ways that may eventually cause us to think about the Kansas experience almost fondly, as a relic of a better time when conservatives at least pretended to have intellectual justifications for their policies and proved, in practice, to care at least a bit about results.

For there was an idea, a theory, behind the Kansas tax cuts: the claim that cutting taxes on the wealthy would produce explosive economic growth. It was a foolish theory, belied by decades of experience: remember the economic collapse that was supposed to follow the Clinton tax hikes, or the boom that was supposed to follow the Bush tax cuts? And it was a theory that always survived mainly because of the Upton Sinclair principle that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But still, it was a theory, and eventually the theory’s failure was too much even for Republican legislators.

Now consider the AHCA, aka Trumpcare. What’s the theory of the case behind this legislation?

When Obamacare was enacted, Republicans had some claims, almost a theory, about why it was a terrible idea. It would, they claimed, fail to improve coverage. It would be a massive “job-killer”. It would cost far more than predicted, and blow up the budget deficit.

In reality, the percentage of Americans under 65 without insurance fell from 18 percent in 2010, the year Obamacare was enacted, to 10 percent in 2016 (and less than 8 percent in Medicaid expansion states). Unemployment was 9.9 percent when the ACA was passed, 6.6 when it went into full effect, 4.8 by January 2017. Costs have come in well below expectations.

There have been some disappointments: fewer people than expected signing up for the exchanges, although this has been offset by the surprising durability of employment-based coverage and stronger than expected Medicaid. But the point is that none of the things Republicans cited as their reason for opposing the bill have come true.

So what’s the theory behind their proposed replacement? Where’s their analysis showing that it will be better? There’s no hint of anything on either topic. You might have expected some kind of appeal to the magic of the market, some claim that radical deregulation will produce wonderful results. It would have been silly, but at least would have shown some respect for the basic idea of analyzing policies and evaluating them by results.

But what we’re getting instead is a raw exercise of political power: the GOP is trying to take away health care from millions and hand the savings to the wealthy simply because it can, without even a fig leaf of intellectual justification.

The point is that what we’re seeing now is so bad, so cynical, that it makes the Kansas experiment looks like a model of idealism and honesty by comparison.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. We’re now in someplace much, much worse.

Yesterday’s second post was “Macroeconomics: The Simple and the Fancy:”

Noah Smith has a nice summation of his critique of macroeconomics, which mainly comes down, as I read it, as an appeal for researchers to stay close to the ground. That’s definitely good advice for young researchers.

But what about economists trying to provide useful advice, directly or indirectly, to policy makers, who need to make decisions based on educated guesses about the whole system? Smith says, “go slow, allow central bankers to use judgment and simple models in the meantime.” That would be better than a lot of what academic macroeconomists do in practice, which is to castigate central bankers and other policymakers for not using elaborate models that don’t work. But is there really no role for smart academics to help out in this process? And if so, what does this say about the utility of what the profession does?

The thing is, those simple models have done pretty darn well since 2008 — and central bankers who used them, like Bernanke, did a lot better than central bankers like Trichet who based their judgements on something else. So surely at least part of the training of macroeconomists should prepare them to be helpful in applying simple models, maybe even in making those simple models better.

Reading Smith, I found myself remembering an old line from Robert Solow in defense of “fancy” economic theorizing:

In economics I like a man to have mastered the fancy theory before I trust him with simple theory … because high-powered economics seems to be such an excellent school for the skillful use of low-powered economics.

OK, can anyone make that case about modern macroeconomics? With a straight face? In practice, it has often seemed that expertise in high-powered macroeconomics — mainly meaning DSGE — positively incapacitates its possessors from the use of low-powered macroeconomics, largely IS-LM and its derivatives.

I don’t want to make a crude functional argument here: research that advances knowledge doesn’t have to provide an immediate practical payoff. But the experience since 2008 has strongly suggested that the research program that dominated macro for the previous generation actually impaired the ability of economists to provide useful advice in the moment. Mastering the fancy stuff made economists useless at the simple stuff.

A more modest program would, in part, help diminish this harm. But it would also be really helpful if macroeconomists relearned the idea that simple aggregate models can, in fact, be useful.