Solo Bobo

January 17, 2017

Bobo seems to be suffering from buyer’s remorse.  In “Lord of Misrule” he whines that we’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king.  Um, what’s this “we” shit, Bobo?  The “we” to which I belong racked up 3 million more votes for our candidate.  It’s your crowd that saddled us with the Trumpocalypse.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say about this as well.  Here’s Bobo:

King David was most compelling when he danced. Overcome by gratitude to God, he stripped down to his linens and whirled about before the ark of the covenant — his love and joy spilling beyond the boundaries of normal decorum.

His wife, Michal, the daughter of King Saul, was repulsed by his behavior, especially because he was doing it in front of the commoners. She snarked at him when he got home for exposing himself in front of the servants’ slave girls like some scurrilous fellow.

The early Christians seem to have worshiped the way David did, with ecstatic dancing, communal joy and what Emile Durkheim called “collective effervescence.” In her book “Dancing in the Streets,” Barbara Ehrenreich argues that in the first centuries of Christianity, worship of Jesus overlapped with worship of Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry. Both Jesus and Dionysus upended class categories. Both turned water into wine. Second- and third-century statuettes show Dionysus hanging on a cross.

But when the church became more hierarchical, the Michals took over. Somber priest-led rituals began to replace direct access to the divine. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus urged, “Let us sing hymns instead of striking drums, have psalms instead of frivolous music and song, … modesty instead of laughter, wise contemplation instead of intoxication, seriousness instead of delirium.”

When elites try to quash the manners and impulses of the people, those impulses are bound to spill out in some other way. By the Middle Ages the cathedrals were strictly hierarchical, so the people created carnivals where everything was turned on its head. During carnival (Purim is the Jewish version), men dressed like women, the people could insult the king and bishops, drunkenness and ribaldry was prized over sober propriety.

As Ehrenreich puts it, “Whatever social category you had been boxed into — male or female, rich or poor — carnival was a chance to escape from it.”

Sometimes the celebration took on an enthusiasm that is hard for us to fathom. In 1278, 200 people kept dancing on a bridge in Utrecht until it collapsed and all were drowned.

The carnivals were partly a way to blow off steam, but in hard times they served as occasions for genuine populist revolts. In 1511, a carnival in Udine, Italy, turned into a riot that led to the murder of 50 nobles and the sacking of more than 20 palaces.

Carnival culture was raw, lascivious and disgraceful, and it elevated a certain social type, the fool.

There were many different kinds of fools: holy fools, hapless fools, vicious fools. Fools were rude and frequently unabashed liars. They were willing to make idiots of themselves. The point of the fool was not to be admirable in himself, but to be the class clown who had the guts to talk back to the teacher. People enjoyed carnival culture, the feast of fools, as a way to take a whack at the status quo.

You can see where I’m going with this. We live at a time of wide social inequality. The intellectual straitjackets have been getting tighter. The universities have become modern cathedrals, where social hierarchies are defined and reinforced.

We’re living with exactly the kinds of injustices that lead to carnival culture, and we’ve crowned a fool king. Donald Trump exists on two levels: the presidential level and the fool level. On one level he makes personnel and other decisions. On the other he tweets. (I honestly don’t know which level is more important to him.)

His tweets are classic fool behavior. They are raw, ridiculous and frequently self-destructive. He takes on an icon of the official culture and he throws mud at it. The point is not the message of the tweet. It’s to symbolically upend hierarchy, to be oppositional.

The assault on Representative John Lewis was classic. He picked one of the most officially admired people in the country and he leveled the most ridiculous possible charge (all talk and no action). It was a tweet devilishly well crafted to create the maximum official uproar. Anybody who writes for a living knows how to manipulate an outraged response, and Trump is a fool puppet master.

The sad part is that so many people treat Trump’s tweets as if they are arguments when in fact they are carnival. With their conniption fits, Trump’s responders feed into the dynamic he needs. They contribute to carnival culture.

The first problem with today’s carnival culture is that there’s an ocean of sadism lurking just below the surface. The second is that it’s not real. It doesn’t really address the inequalities that give rise to it. It’s just combative display.

This is a resolution I’m probably going to break, but I resolve to write about Trump only on the presidential level, not on the carnival level. I’m going to try to respond only to what he does, not what he says or tweets. I really wish some of my media confreres would do the same.

Well.  That was an especially rancid pile.  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

Wait just a second—if electing a Fool King is a reaction to social injustice and rigid hierarchies, then why elect a Republican? Democrats have been fighting to loosen the chains for the last century. Republicans are the ones locking up the population, thumping the Bible, dragging us into wars and legislating bathroom behavior.

So what is this Fool King a protest against? He’s marching under a banner that says Down with Affordable Medical Care! Keep Salaries Low! Build a Wall! Fight the Nazis in the FBI! All Hail Mother Russia!

He tweets like a disturbed adolescent Internet troll. And yet David Brooks says that those of us who react to his foolish tweets are feeding into his dynamic. That’s just shifting the blame onto sensible people who point out that the emperor has no clothes. Possibly in a Russian hotel room. With two leaky hookers.

I can see why Mr. Brooks may want to disown his party’s chosen champion, but the rest of us aren’t obliged to pretend that things are normal.

The Fool King is not remotely presidential, so it’s not possible to write about him only on the presidential level. That’s what got us to this incomprehensible mess: millions of Americans looked at this festering blister of a candidate and thought that he was presidential.

The inauguration will not only be a victory for an illegitimate president. It will also be a victory for the illegitimate voter.”

Blow and Krugman

January 16, 2017

In “John’s Gospel of Trump’s Illegitimacy” Mr. Blow says a lecher attacked a legend when Donald Trump tweeted an attack on John Lewis.  Prof. Krugman, in “With All Due Disrespect,” presents the patriotic case for frankness about a tainted election.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Friday, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and Donald Trump inauguration-boycotter John Lewis told NBC’s Chuck Todd something that I believe millions of Americans are thinking.

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

The release of the clip in which Lewis made his stark assessment came on the same day that the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and other intelligence officials provided a classified briefing to members of the House, no doubt divulging information to which we mere mortals are not privy. After the meeting, Representative Maxine Waters of California blasted: “It’s classified and we can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the F.B.I. director has no credibility!”

It would be easy to simply claim that emotions are running high or that partisan pain is abnormally acute. But I continue to argue, strenuously and adamantly, that to simply see the extraordinary events unfolding before us as purely ideological blinds us to the very real concern that our sovereignty has been compromised.

Trump, the president-elect tweet stormer, couldn’t let this go, particularly Lewis’s assessment.

Early on Saturday morning, Trump shot back at Lewis in possibly one of the most ill-advised political social media moments I can recall, publishing two tweets that together read: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Stop and think about what you just read: A lecher attacking a legend; a man of moral depravity attacking a man of moral certitude; an intellectual weakling attacking a warrior for justice. This on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, no less.

Trump attacks Lewis as, “All talk, talk, talk — no action”; Lewis, who repeatedly thrust his body unto the breach for justice, who was arrested, beaten and terrorized, including during the time that young Trump was at his well-heeled schools, receiving draft deferments from the Vietnam War.

In fact, one of Trump’s five deferments was in 1965, the same year as the Selma marches and “Bloody Sunday,” during which Lewis was struck so violently by a state trooper wielding a billy club that Lewis’s skull was fractured.

Coincidentally, Trump finally received his permanent exemption from the draft, a 4-F status, in the year before he and his father were sued by the Department of Justice for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — one of the many justice issues Lewis championed.

As The New York Times noted at the time: “The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color.’ It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.”

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump doesn’t even deserve to stand in John Lewis’s shadow. The spectacular obscenity of Trump’s comment is incomparable and deeply repulsive.

And furthermore, I don’t find what Lewis said about Trump’s illegitimacy to be outrageous, or off the mark in the least.

I guess for me, it comes down to a rather profound semantic question: Does ‘legitimate’ refer here to the meaning in law or principle?

It is true that Donald Trump is, by all measures of the law, the legitimate president-elect and will legitimately be inaugurated our 45th president on Friday, no matter how much it pains me to write that or pains you to read it. There simply is no constitutional or statutory mechanism to nullify the installation of an elected president based on election influencing, even by a hostile state actor. The framers of the Constitution had no way of anticipating digital warfare being used in a propaganda attack. The Constitution was ratified before electric lights were invented.

But there is another way of considering legitimacy, another test that his election doesn’t meet: That is when legitimacy is defined as “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.”

Here, Lewis and his fellow believers are on solid footing. Trump has bucked our conventions; his life is rife with percolating conflicts; Comey outrageously threw a wrench in the works with his meaningless, last-minute letter about Clinton’s email (which is now, quite rightly, being investigated); and the intelligence community has determined with high confidence that Russia interfered in our election in an effort to hurt Clinton and help Trump, their desired candidate.

The only thing of burning significance left to know is whether there was any collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign and whether there are any other unknown connections between those two entities.

Mr. Trump, I join John Lewis in asserting with full confidence and clear conscience that I, too, don’t see you as a legitimate president. Your presidency is illegitimate insofar as outside interference in an election violates our standards and principles. You will wear that scarlet “I” on your tan chest for as long as you sit in the White House.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

As a young man, Congressman John Lewis, who represents most of Atlanta, literally put his life on the line in pursuit of justice. As a key civil rights leader, he endured multiple beatings. Most famously, he led the demonstration that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, suffering a fractured skull at the hands of state troopers. Public outrage over that day’s violence helped lead to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Now Mr. Lewis says that he won’t attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, whom he regards as an illegitimate president.

As you might expect, this statement provoked a hysterical, slanderous reaction from the president-elect – who, of course, got his start in national politics by repeatedly, falsely questioning President Obama’s right to hold office. But Mr. Trump — who has never sacrificed anything or taken a risk to help others — seems to have a special animus toward genuine heroes. Maybe he prefers demonstrators who don’t get beaten?

But let’s not talk about Mr. Trump’s ravings. Instead, let’s ask whether Mr. Lewis was right to say what he said. Is it O.K., morally and politically, to declare the man about to move into the White House illegitimate?

Yes, it is. In fact, it’s an act of patriotism.

By any reasonable standard, the 2016 election was deeply tainted. It wasn’t just the effects of Russian intervention on Mr. Trump’s behalf; Hillary Clinton would almost surely have won if the F.B.I. hadn’t conveyed the false impression that it had damaging new information about her, just days before the vote. This was grotesque, delegitimizing malfeasance, especially in contrast with the agency’s refusal to discuss the Russia connection.

Was there even more to it? Did the Trump campaign actively coordinate with a foreign power? Did a cabal within the F.B.I. deliberately slow-walk investigations into that possibility? Are the lurid tales about adventures in Moscow true? We don’t know, although Mr. Trump’s creepy obsequiousness to Vladimir Putin makes it hard to dismiss these allegations. Even given what we do know, however, no previous U.S. president-elect has had less right to the title. So why shouldn’t we question his legitimacy?

And talking frankly about how Mr. Trump gained power isn’t just about truth-telling. It may also help to limit that power.

It would be one thing if the incoming commander in chief showed any hint of humility, of realizing that his duty to the nation requires showing some respect for the strong majority of Americans who voted against him despite Russian meddling and the F.B.I.’s disinformation dump. But he hasn’t and won’t.

Instead, he’s lashing out at and threatening anyone and everyone who criticizes him, while refusing even to admit that he lost the popular vote. And he’s surrounding himself with people who share his contempt for everything that is best in America. What we’re looking at, all too obviously, is an American kakistocracy — rule by the worst.

What can restrain this rule? Well, Congress still has a lot of power to rein the president in. And it would be nice to imagine that there are enough public-spirited legislators to play that role. In particular, just three Republican senators with consciences could do a lot to protect American values.

But Congress will be much more likely to stand up to a rogue, would-be authoritarian executive if its members realize that they will face a political price if they act as his enablers.

What this means is that Mr. Trump must not be treated with personal deference simply because of the position he has managed to seize. He must not be granted the use of the White House as a bully pulpit. He must not be allowed to cloak himself in the majesty of office. Given what we know about this guy’s character, it’s all too clear that granting him unearned respect will just empower him to behave badly.

And reminding people how he got where he is will be an important tool in preventing him from gaining respect he doesn’t deserve. Remember, saying that the election was tainted isn’t a smear or a wild conspiracy theory; it’s simply the truth.

Now, anyone questioning Mr. Trump’s legitimacy will be accused of being unpatriotic — because that’s what people on the right always say about anyone who criticizes a Republican president. (Strangely, they don’t say this about attacks on Democratic presidents.) But patriotism means standing up for your country’s values, not pledging personal allegiance to Dear Leader.

No, we shouldn’t get into the habit of delegitimizing election results we don’t like. But this time really is exceptional, and needs to be treated that way.

So let’s be thankful that John Lewis had the courage to speak out. It was the patriotic, heroic thing to do. And America needs that kind of heroism, now more than ever.

Krugman’s blog, 1/14/17

January 15, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Infrastructure Delusions:”


Wikiality.com

Ben Bernanke has a longish post about fiscal policy in the Caligula Trump era. It’s not the most entertaining read; perhaps because of the political fraughtness of the moment, Bernanke has reverted a bit to Fedspeak. But there’s some solid insight, a lot of it pretty much in line with what I have been saying.

Notably, Bernanke, like yours truly, argues that the fiscal-stimulus case for deficit spending has gotten much weaker, but there’s still a case for borrowing to build infrastructure:

When I was Fed chair, I argued on a number of occasions against fiscal austerity (tax increases, spending cuts). The economy at the time was suffering from high unemployment, and with monetary policy operating close to its limits, I pushed (unsuccessfully) for fiscal policies to increase aggregate demand and job creation. Today, with the economy approaching full employment, the need for demand-side stimulus, while perhaps not entirely gone, is surely much less than it was three or four years ago. There is still a case for fiscal policy action today, but to increase output without unduly increasing inflation the focus should be on improving productivity and aggregate supply—for example, through improved public infrastructure that makes our economy more efficient or tax reforms that promote private capital investment.

But he gently expresses doubt that this kind of thing is actually going to happen:

In particular, will Republicans be willing to support big increases in spending, including infrastructure spending? Alternatively, if Congress opts to reduce the deficit impact of an infrastructure program by financing it through tax credits and public-private partnerships, as candidate Trump proposed, the program might turn out to be relatively small.

Let me be less gentle: there will be no significant public investment program, for two reasons.

First, Congressional Republicans have no interest in such a program. They’re hell-bent on depriving millions of health care and cutting taxes at the top; they aren’t even talking about public investment, and would probably drag their feet even if Trump came forward with a detailed plan and made it a priority.

But this then raises the obvious question: who really believes that this crew is going to come up with a serious plan? Trump has no policy shop, nor does he show any intention of creating one; he’s too busy tweeting about perceived insults from celebrities, and he’s creating a cabinet of people who know nothing about their responsibilities. Any substantive policy actions will be devised and turned into legislation by Congressional Republicans who, again, have zero interest in a public investment program.

So investors betting on a big infrastructure push are almost surely deluding themselves. We may see some conspicuous privatizations, especially if they come with naming opportunities: maybe putting in new light fixtures will let him rename Hoover Dam as Trump Dam? But little or no real investment is coming.

Kristof, solo

January 15, 2017

In “Donald Trump: Kremlin Employee of the Month?” Mr. Kristof says a dossier has been circulating in Washington that’s completely unsubstantiated and yet also plausible.  Here he is:

The humor writer Andy Borowitz recently joked that Donald Trump had been named the Kremlin’s “employee of the month.” I giggled at that, and then winced. It’s painful even to joke about.

Some of the most explosive reports about America in the last few days appeared in Israeli newspapers. They suggested that American intelligence officials had warned Israel to “be careful” about sharing classified information with the Trump White House, for fear that it would be given to Russia.

American intelligence officials reportedly cautioned that Vladimir Putin might have “leverages of pressure” to extort Trump. That presumably was a reference to the hanky-panky recounted in the dossier alleging that Moscow compromised Trump by filming him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

Perhaps more troubling are suggestions of collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Trump strongly denies all this, the dossier has zero public evidence behind it, and it should be treated with skepticism. But it reflects an unprecedented uncertainty: There is a disorienting kernel of doubt about whether we can fully trust the man who will occupy the Oval Office.

So is our new president a Russian poodle?

Here’s what we know. The dossier was gathered by a former British MI6 spy, Christopher Steele. A onetime British ambassador to Russia described Steele as a “very competent professional operator” who would not make things up.

Still, the dossier began as opposition research funded by people looking for dirt on Trump, and for weeks it has been in the hands of news organizations (including The Times), the F.B.I., politicians and others, and no one has been able to prove its allegations. Perhaps the closest: The BBC suggested that the “head of an East European intelligence agency” was aware of the material and that C.I.A. officers investigating the issue provided details including that there was “more than one tape.”

Look, it’s poetic justice that Donald Trump, who for years falsely bellowed that President Obama was born abroad, is now caught in similarly unsubstantiated rumors. So Democrats have a right to chortle. But they should remain skeptical.

This isn’t “fake news” of the kind fabricated by Macedonian websites, but it’s both plausible and completely unsubstantiated. Unlike Trump’s claims that Obama was foreign-born, even after the president produced his birth certificate, this hasn’t been disproved or discredited, and it was regarded as credible enough to brief the president and president-elect about. This occupies a murky middle ground: Maybe it’s true and maybe not.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has announced an investigation of Russian election meddling, and other Senate Republicans seem intent on pursuing the issue as well. That’s good: Democrats have little credibility investigating Trump, so it makes sense for Republicans to lead on this.

In the meantime, let’s put aside sexual blackmail and focus on what is undisputed: Trump praises Putin, criticizes NATO and downplays Russian war crimes and its attempts to steal our election.

In contrast, Trump compares the American intelligence community to Nazis, suggesting it was behind the leaking of the dossier. It’s astonishing to see a president-elect in effect hug the Russians while giving his own team the finger, creating a chasm between the White House and the intelligence community.

“It’s extraordinarily serious,” said Jeffrey H. Smith, a former general counsel to the C.I.A. “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He said that the C.I.A. was buoyed by the nomination of Mike Pompeo to lead it, but that morale and effectiveness would suffer if the rift with the Trump White House continued.

It’s also indisputable that Trump has appointed people soft on Russia. Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the new national security adviser, took money in 2015 from RT, the Russian propaganda front, and sat next to Putin at an RT dinner. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state nominee, is one of the American executives friendliest to Putin.

For months, there have been indications of bizarre ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, including the Russian government’s assertion in November that it maintained contacts with Trump’s “immediate entourage.” The F.B.I. investigated Trump’s Russia ties over the summer and fall, and reportedly sought approval to monitor his aides suspected of improper contacts with Russian officials.

So what’s going on?

The most important question is simply why our president-elect has been so determined to side with Russia — undermining his own intelligence community as he does so. Perhaps it’s a genuine if naïve attempt to “reset” relations. But, oops, new presidents have tried that before, and it fails each time.

The Trump view is so far from the foreign policy mainstream that inevitably there will be darker theories offered for the softness toward Russia. These involve financial ties with Moscow, since Trump refuses to release his tax statements, or the kind of sordid blackmail alleged in the dossier.

Such rumors may well be wrong and unfair — but they persist. They damage Trump, the intelligence community and the United States itself, and the best disinfectant will be transparency. That means congressional inquiries, led by Republicans, and a continued F.B.I. investigation.

We can’t afford even the perception that our president is the Kremlin’s man in Washington.

Brooks and Krugman

January 13, 2017

This is lovely.  Both Bobo and Prof. Krugman have addressed the same problem today.  And Bobo thinks he has a thing or two to say about the economics of health care…  He asks “Do Markets Work in Health Care?” and says that there’s psychology as well as economics in a consumer-based system.  “Gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Prof. Krugman, who actually KNOWS a thing or three about economics, addresses “Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions” and says magical thinking won’t work on health care.  Here’s Bobo:

Believe it or not, we’re not really going to have to spend the next four years wading through wonky drudgery of Russian spy dossiers and hotel sex cameras. At some point we’re going to have a thrilling debate over the most scintillating question in health care policy.

The Republicans are going to try to replace Obamacare. They’re probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms.

As you know, the American health care system is not like a normal market. When you make most health care decisions you don’t get much information on comparative cost and quality; the personal bill you get is only vaguely related to the services; the expense is often determined by how many procedures are done, not whether the problem is fixed.

You wouldn’t buy a phone this way.

The Republicans are going to try to introduce more normal market incentives into the process. They are probably going to rely on refundable tax credits and health savings accounts so everybody can afford to shop for their own insurance and care.

This would still be nothing like a free-market system — it would still be a highly regulated, largely public benefit — but it would rely more on consumer incentives.

The crucial question is: Do market incentives work in health care?

This is really two questions. The economic one: Would market mechanisms improve quality and reduce costs? The psychological one: Do people want the extra cognitive burden of shopping for health care, or would they rather offload those decisions to someone else?

Most progressives say markets don’t work. They point back to a famous essay the economist Kenneth Arrow wrote in 1963, which is the same year the Beach Boys had a huge hit with “Surfer Girl.”

Arrow argued that there are several features that make health care unlike normal markets. People’s needs for health care are unpredictable, unlike food and clothing. The doctor-patient relationship is unique and demands a high level of trust, empathy and care. Providers know much more about medicine than patients do, so the information is hopelessly asymmetric. Patients on a gurney can’t really make normal choices, and payment comes after care, not before.

These are all solid points, especially the doctor-patient one. But health care has become less exceptional over time. The internet and other mechanisms help customers acquire a lot more information. Sophisticated modeling helps with unpredictability in a bunch of fields.

We put our lives in the hands of for-profit companies all the time. I spent part of my week learning from an aviation mechanic how hard manufacturers work to prevent pieces of metal from shredding through the cabin if an engine explodes. Airplanes are ridiculously safe.

Proponents of market-based health care rely less on theory and more on data. The most fair-minded review of the evidence I’ve read comes from a McKinsey report written by Penelope Dash and David Meredith. They noted that sometimes market forces lead to worse outcomes, but “we have been most struck by health systems in which provider competition, managed effectively, has improved outcomes and patient choice significantly, while at the same time reducing system costs.”

There’s much research to suggest that people are able to behave like intelligent health care consumers. Work by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard and others found higher-performing hospitals do gain greater market share over time. People know quality and flock to it.

Furthermore, health care providers work hard to keep up with the competitors. When one provider becomes more productive, the neighboring ones tend to as well.

There are plenty of examples where market competition has improved health care delivery. The Medicare Part D program, passed under President George W. Bush, created competition around drug benefits. The program has provided coverage for millions while coming in at 57 percent under the cost of what the Congressional Budget Office initially projected. A study of Indiana’s health savings accounts found the state’s expenses were reduced by 11 percent.

Laser eye surgery produces more patient satisfaction than any other surgery. But it’s generally not covered by insurance, so it’s a free market. Twenty years ago it cost about $2,200 per eye. Now I see ads starting at $250 an eye.

There’s a big chunk of evidence that market incentives would work in health care, especially in non-acute care. The harder problem for Republicans may be political. This is a harried society. People may not want the added burdens of making health care decisions on top of all the others. This is a distrustful society. People may not trust themselves or others to make decisions. This is an insecure society. People may not want what they perceive as another risk factor in their lives.

The policy case for the Republican plans is solid. Will they persuade in this psychological environment? I doubt it.

Bobo doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that Lasix surgery is optional, and can be considered in the same camp as plastic surgery.  I doubt that many cancer patients will defer treatment until the price comes down…  But then again, Bobo is a maroon.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“The reason we have Obamacare is because the market-friendly days of old were not friendly to sick people. They were friendly to the markets at the expense of the sick. John Boehner went into a purple-tongued apoplectic rage when Obamacare was passed, not because it would help millions of the uninsured sick, but because it would inconvenience the ability of the free market to prey on them.

Health care is not a commodity, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity, and the richest nation in the world should have found a way to provide medical care to the people whose lifetime of labor made it so. Instead of worrying about how health care will impact insurance companies, we should wonder how other advanced nations manage to provide low-cost, quality care to their citizens, and why we can’t.

Martin Shkreli is the poster boy for the free-market approach to health care. He may have seemed like an extreme example, but he was a piker when it came to robbing people blind for what were inexpensive drugs. How does his strategy differ from our current system, in which the U.S. isn’t allowed to negotiate drug prices?

There is one definitive and fool-proof test for determining the most compassionate and cost-effective health-care system that will support the needs of all our citizens: if Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress are for it, run screaming in the other direction. You’ll always be right.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Thanks, Comey.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is now investigating the way the F.B.I. director conveyed the false impression of an emerging Clinton scandal just days before the election, even as he said nothing about ongoing investigations into Russian intervention and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That action very probably installed Donald Trump in the White House. And it’s already obvious that the incoming commander in chief will be a walking, tweeting ethical disaster.

On the other hand, he’s also dangerously delusional about policy.

Some Republicans appear to be realizing that their long con on Obamacare has reached its limit. Chanting “repeal and replace” may have worked as a political strategy, but coming up with a conservative replacement for the Affordable Care Act — one that doesn’t take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans — isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible.

But it seems that nobody told Mr. Trump. In Wednesday’s news conference, he asserted that he would submit a replacement plan, “probably the same day” as Obamacare’s repeal — “could be the same hour” — that will be “far less expensive and far better”; also, with much lower deductibles.

This is crazy, on multiple levels.

The truth is that even if Republicans were settled on the broad outlines of a health care plan — the way Democrats were when President Obama took office — turning such an outline into real legislation is a time-consuming process.

In any case, however, the G.O.P. has spent seven years denouncing the Affordable Care Act without ever producing even the ghost of an alternative. That’s not going to change in the next few weeks, or ever. For the anti-Obamacare campaign has always been based on lies that can’t survive actual repeal.

A prime example is the pretense that health reform hasn’t helped anyone. “Things are only getting worse under Obamacare,” declared Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, last week. Yet the reality is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without insurance since reform went into effect — and an overwhelming majority of those covered by the new health exchanges are satisfied with their coverage.

How have Republicans nonetheless been able to get away with this lie? Part of the answer is that many of the newly insured don’t know that they’re being covered via Obamacare, or at any rate don’t realize that they will lose coverage if it’s repealed.

But that will change if repeal proceeds. For example, the percentage of nonelderly white adults without insurance fell by almost half from 2010 to 2016, from 16.4 to 8.7, a gain surely concentrated in the Trump-supporting white working class. Repeal would send that number right back up, and there would be no hiding the damage.

Meanwhile, Republicans have made hay over this year’s increase in insurance premiums. But this looks very much like a one-time adjustment; and the broader picture is that health costs have actually gone up much more slowly since Obamacare was enacted than they did before, in part due to the law’s cost-control features, which have worked far better than most expected.

And if the Affordable Care Act is killed, myths about its costs will be replaced by the reality of soaring bills for millions of Americans who don’t realize how much the act has helped them.

But won’t Trumpcare solve all these problems, by offering something much better and cheaper? Not a chance.

Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do have a philosophy — and it’s all about less. Less regulation, so that insurers can turn you down if you have a pre-existing condition. Less government support, so if you can’t afford coverage, too bad. And less coverage in general: Republican ideas about cost control are all about “skin in the game,” requiring people to pay more out of pocket (which somehow doesn’t stop them from complaining about high deductibles).

Implementing this philosophy would deliver a big windfall to the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut from Obamacare repeal, and it would mean lower premiums for a relatively small number of currently healthy individuals — especially if they’re rich enough that they don’t need to worry about high deductibles.

But the idea that it would lead to big cost savings over all is pure fantasy, and it would have a devastating effect on the millions who have gained coverage during the Obama years.

As I said, it looks as if some Republicans realize this. They may go ahead with repeal-but-don’t-replace anyway, but they’ll probably do it because they believe they can find some way to blame Democrats for the ensuing disaster.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, gives every impression of having no idea whatsoever what the issues are. But then, is there any area of policy where he does?

No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 12, 2017

In “Ode to Obama” Mr. Blow says you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.  Ain’t that the truth — Trump would pave paradise and put up a parking lot if he could make a dime.  Mr. Kristof, in “When Backpage.com Peddles Schoolgirls for Sex,” says the authorities are making progress in restricting a website as a medium for sex trafficking.  Ms. Collins ponders “Trump, Sex and Lots of Whining” and invites us to meet the luckiest victim in the world.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The dark clouds of the coming administration rolled in this week with a fury, producing a flood of strange and worrisome news.

There was the utterly terrifying confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions as our next attorney general, at which he signaled in no uncertain terms his hostility to the protective posture that the Justice Department has taken to safeguard vulnerable populations over the last eight years.

There was the long-awaited news conference conducted by the president-elect that, predictably, turned into a circus of boasting, hubris, hostility, distraction and deflection.

And then there was the release of the unsubstantiated intelligence report, with its nausea-inducing claims, which I don’t know what to do with.

But there was a calm in the midst of the storm, a rock of familiarity and stability and strength: On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his farewell address in his adopted hometown, Chicago, as a forlorn crowd looked on, realizing the magnitude of the moment, realizing the profundity of its loss.

As the old saying goes: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Whether you have approved of the Obama presidency as a matter of policy or not, it is impossible to argue that Obama was not a man of principle. Whether you agree with individual decisions or the content of his rhetoric, it is impossible to argue that he did not conduct himself with dignity and respect and that he did not lead the country with those values as a guiding light.

I have not always agreed with the president’s positions or tactics, and this feels normal to me. Freethinking people are bound to disagree occasionally, even if a vast majority of their values align.

I was particularly frustrated with what I believed was his misreading and underestimation of the intensity of the opposition he faced, and his approach of being a gentleman soldier in a guerrilla war. I was harsh in my critique; some would say too harsh. In 2009, I wrote: “The president wears outrage like another man’s suit. It doesn’t quite fit.” In 2011, I called him “a robotic Sustainer-in-Chief.”

But none of those differences in opinions about strategy injured in any way my profound respect for the characteristics of the man we came to take for granted: bracingly smart, exceptionally well educated, literate in the grand tradition of the great men of letters. He was scholarly, erudite, well read and an adroit writer.

And he was an orator for the ages. We got so used to elegant, sometimes masterly speechifying, that I will admit I sometimes tuned it out. We had an abundance of riches in that regard.

But listening to the president’s farewell address, I was hit with the force of a brawler that the decency and dignity, the solemnity and splendor, the loftiness and literacy that Obama brought to the office was extraordinary and anomalous, the kind of thing that each generation may only hope to have in a president.

In a way, it was the small things, the way he made reference to Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” in his discussion of race relations in this country. It was the ease of confidence that comes from having read the book and not just the speechwriter’s script.

That made me think of the two presidents who will bracket Obama: George W. Bush, who Karl Rove claims was a voracious reader, but whose articulation and disposition betrayed a man struggling for intellectual adequacy, and Donald Trump, a man who comes across as possessing more anger than acumen and whose ghostwriter said of him: “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”

Even more impressive is Obama’s skill for raising and parsing delicate issues like race, so that all of the people involved feel respected and represented, so that all participants in the debate feel that they have been truly heard and seen.

He hasn’t always gotten this right. No human being has always gotten everything right. Holding him to that impossible standard hardly seems fair. But he started from a very strong and respectable position and has grown even more steady and sure from there.

So as the end of his presidency draws close, America is confronted with the reality of what is being lost. It is no wonder that a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found that “American voters approve 55–39 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, his best approval rating in seven years.” For comparison, Trump’s approval rating as the president-elect is only 37 percent.

Obama wasn’t perfect, but neither is anyone — you or I — and neither was any other president. But Obama is a good man and a good president. Some would argue that he was great on both counts.

We will remember that — and miss it — when Trump’s whirlwind of scandal, conflict, crudeness, boorishness and vindictiveness barrels into Washington.

We can but pray that the country survives.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

As a 16-year-old high school sophomore living in Boston, Asia Graves was sold on the internet “like a pizza,” she recalls, handed over to be raped by strange men every day.

Along with thousands of other girls, she was sold through what amounts to an online brothel called Backpage. It dominates the online sex trade and is implicated in almost three-quarters of the reports of child trafficking in the United States.

Yet this week offers a moment to celebrate. Under political and legal pressure, Backpage on Monday closed its “adult” advertising section, used to peddle women and children for sex. There’s also an overdue effort to hold its executives criminally and civilly liable.

“There’s been a lot of progress,” notes Graves, who eventually escaped her pimp — but only after he gouged her face with a potato peeler and stomped on her, breaking her jaw. She was cheering this week as a Senate subcommittee held hearings on Backpage and discussed tightening the law on websites like it.

I’ve been writing about sex trafficking since the 1990s, because at its worst it’s an echo of slavery. It’s also a topic rife with hypocrisy. We denounced the Catholic Church and Penn State for tolerating child sexual abuse, but we have collectively tolerated websites like Backpage that sell children for sex.

That has steadily been changing. Credit card companies stopped processing payments for ads in Backpage, undermining its business model. Kamala Harris, then California’s attorney general and now its new senator, filed criminal charges in December against Backpage executives, with arraignment scheduled for this month. Civil suits in Washington State against Backpage are proceeding. A film about trafficking, “I Am Jane Doe,” opens in theaters next month and shines a light on Backpage as “the Walmart of human trafficking.”

Most important, a Senate subcommittee, led by Rob Portman, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, has done outstanding work investigating Backpage and showing how it achieved a valuation of more than half a billion dollars by working with human traffickers.

A devastating new subcommittee report shows that the company protects pimps from their carelessness by deleting hints that a girl is underage. For example, if a pimp tries to post an ad for a “Lolita,” “little girl,” “school girl” or “amber alert,” those terms are automatically stripped from the ad — but it is still posted, so the girl will still be sold for sex.

One Backpage document indicated that by 2010, more than 70 percent of its ads in the adult section were being edited like that, suggesting that the company was far more involved in manipulating content than it ever let on.

Sure, some people selling sex are adults acting on their own to make money, and that’s not a concern of mine. If Backpage carefully verified names and ages, I’d be fine with that. But Backpage has more stringent rules for selling a dog than for selling a kid.

I’ve written repeatedly about Backpage over the years because the stories haunt me. My first column about Backpage involved a 13-year-old girl whom I called Baby Face. Her pimp had kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee, and she was hurting and bleeding and couldn’t bear another rape, but her pimp sold her on Backpage anyway. He took her to an apartment building and waited outside after telling her which apartment to go to.

Terrified and desperate, Baby Face instead pounded on the door of a different apartment. When a surprised woman answered, Baby Face asked for a phone and called her mom and then 911. Her pimp went to prison, but Backpage simply profited from the sale, as it always has.

Look, human trafficking is a complicated issue. If Backpage is put out of business, other websites may fill the void, and indeed, when Backpage closed its adult section, ads selling sex immediately moved over to the site’s dating section.

We need Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to clarify that companies like Backpage don’t get protections when they permit pimps to sell kids on their websites. There is a mounting bipartisan effort to pass such an amendment, and I hope President-elect Donald Trump will show leadership on this as well. We also need local police departments and prosecutors to go after pimps and johns, rather than sometimes targeting the children who are the victims.

One mom, Nacole (she didn’t want her full name used to protect her family’s privacy), told me how her 15-year-old daughter was sold for more than three months on Backpage.

“How could such a horrific, morally bankrupt business model find success in America?” she asked at the Senate hearing. She said her daughter had been advertised on the website as a ‘Weekend Special.’”

It’s too late to protect that girl, who is still struggling to recuperate. But when children are sold for sex online as weekend specials, they’re not the ones who should be ashamed. We all should be.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Finally, Donald Trump held a press conference. I know you want to hear the sex-in-Russia part.

The world learned this week about memos from a retired British intelligence officer on relations between the Trump campaign and the Russians. They included some speculation about whether there were compromising videos of Trump cavorting in a Russian hotel that might explain his enthusiastic support for Vladimir Putin.

The report wasn’t prepared by our intelligence agencies — it was opposition research done on contract for some other campaigns. It had been bouncing around Washington for a while. You didn’t hear about it because nobody could confirm any of the allegations.

But a summary of the memos showed up in the briefing Trump got from the intelligence agencies last week. Wouldn’t you have liked to be there to see the reaction?

Then a version of the report showed up online, and naturally it came up Wednesday at Trump’s press conference.

About that press conference. Here are some of the things we learned:

■ The reason he hasn’t shown up to answer questions from reporters since July is “inaccurate news.”

■ The Russians don’t have any secret tapes of him behaving badly in a hotel room because every time he goes to hotels abroad, he warns everybody: “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras.” Of everything Trump said during the press conference, this was perhaps the most convincing.

■ He is not going to divest himself of his businesses, but his two adult sons will be running them. He was just doing this out of his ethical heart, since there are no conflict-of-interest rules for the president. (“… as president I could run the Trump Organization — great, great company. And I could run the company, the country. I’d do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.”)

■ He’ll release his taxes once the audit is finished. (You remember that audit. Its friends call it Godot.)

■ The inauguration is going to be “a beautiful event” because “we have great talent.” (Military bands were mentioned.)

■ “If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability.”

■ “Over the weekend I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai.”

He was all over the place. It was, in a way, a great strategy. We’ve been waiting for a long time to hear how Trump would deal with his businesses, and his refusal to divest drove ethics watchdogs crazy. But on Wednesday, the whole topic got drowned in the hubbub over the leaked report. And Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. And his theory on hotel cameras.

This kind of rapid-fire diversion could be the work of a political genius, but in fact it’s just how our next president’s mind naturally seems to operate. It bounces hither and yon. The only ongoing focus is what it all means to Trump. Did he look good? How was the crowd? Did anyone betray him?

He was definitely playing the victim when it came to the leaked report. He blamed the intelligence services, which he compared, with great originality and careful choice of words, to Nazis.

Keep in mind that although government investigators have been looking into these allegations for a long time, they never became public during the campaign. “I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this,” F.B.I. Director James Comey said during one of the multitudinous Senate hearings this week.

This is, of course, the same guy who told Congress — 11 days before the election – that the F.B.I. was investigating Hillary Clinton emails that wound up on a laptop owned by Anthony Weiner, a.k.a. “Carlos Danger,” estranged husband of her aide and world-famous sex texter.

The F.B.I. later announced it had found nothing. Meanwhile, people who were already voting in some states had been reminded to connect Clinton with a guy who sent pictures of his private parts to strange women. Clinton thinks it cost her the election. There’s no way to tell. She got nearly three million more votes than Trump, but by the rules we live under, she lost. End of story.

Trump is never going to admit his win was anything but a record-shattering triumph. But his preening, and his whining about being persecuted by the intelligence services, really twists the knife.

Since the election, the media and many Democratic politicians have wrung their hands over their failure to pay attention to the legitimate anger in the Trump-tilting parts of the country. And good for them.

But it’s time to remember that there are about 66 million Clinton voters who have a right to be angry, too.

Krugman’s blog, 1/10/17

January 11, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “There Will Be No Obamacare Replacement:”

You may be surprised at the evident panic now seizing Republicans, who finally — thanks to James Comey and Vladimir Putin — are in a position to do what they always wanted, and kill Obamacare. How can it be that they’re not ready with a replacement plan?

That is, you may be surprised if you spent the entire Obama era paying no attention to the substantive policy issues — which is a pretty good description of the Republicans, now that you think about it.

From the beginning, those of us who did think it through realized that anything like universal coverage could only be achieved in one of two ways: single payer, which was not going to be politically possible, or a three-legged stool of regulation, mandates, and subsidies. Here’s how I put it exactly 7 years ago:

Start with the proposition that we don’t want our fellow citizens denied coverage because of preexisting conditions — which is a very popular position, so much so that even conservatives generally share it, or at least pretend to.

So why not just impose community rating — no discrimination based on medical history?

Well, the answer, backed up by lots of real-world experience, is that this leads to an adverse-selection death spiral: healthy people choose to go uninsured until they get sick, leading to a poor risk pool, leading to high premiums, leading even more healthy people dropping out.

So you have to back community rating up with an individual mandate: people must be required to purchase insurance even if they don’t currently think they need it.

But what if they can’t afford insurance? Well, you have to have subsidies that cover part of premiums for lower-income Americans.

In short, you end up with the health care bill that’s about to get enacted. There’s hardly anything arbitrary about the structure: once the decision was made to rely on private insurers rather than a single-payer system — and look, single-payer wasn’t going to happen — it had to be more or less what we’re getting. It wasn’t about ideology, or greediness, it was about making the thing work.

It’s actually amazing how thoroughly the right turned a blind eye to this logic, and some — maybe even a majority — are still in denial. But this is as ironclad a policy argument as I’ve ever seen; and it means that you can’t tamper with the basic structure without throwing tens of millions of people out of coverage. You can’t even scale back the spending very much — Obamacare is somewhat underfunded as is.

Will they decide to go ahead anyway, and risk opening the eyes of working-class voters to the way they’ve been scammed? I have no idea. But if Republicans do end up paying a big political price for their willful policy ignorance, it couldn’t happen to more deserving people.

Friedman, Cohen, and Bruni

January 11, 2017

In “Online and Scared” The Moustache of Wisdom says a critical mass of our interactions has moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.  Mr. Cohen, in “Streep vs. Trump for America,” says Americans have been duped by a showman, but to unseat him, liberals must reckon with how they lost sight of their country.  Would that be because we don’t pander to racists, homophobes and neonazis?  Mr. Bruni, in “The Dark Magic of Kellyanne Conway,” says Donald Trump’s cheeriest defender is a political wonder.  Well, that’s one thing you could call her…  Here’s TMOW:

And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point that was revealed by the most unlikely collection of actors: Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and the Macy’s department store. Who’d have thunk it?

And what was this tipping point?

It was the moment when we realized that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace.” That is to say, a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.

After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good, and certainly no “1-800-Call-If-Putin-Hacks-Your-Election.” If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.

And yet this realm is where we now spend increasing hours of our day. Cyberspace is now where we do more of our shopping, more of our dating, more of our friendship-making and sustaining, more of our learning, more of our commerce, more of our teaching, more of our communicating, more of our news-broadcasting and news-seeking and more of our selling of goods, services and ideas.

It’s where both our president-elect and the leader of ISIS can communicate with equal ease with tens of millions of their respective followers through Twitter — without editors, fact-checkers, libel lawyers or other filters.

And, I would argue, 2016 will be remembered as the year when we fully grasped just how scary that can be — how easy it was for a presidential candidate to tweet out untruths and half-truths faster than anyone could correct them, how cheap it was for Russia to intervene on Trump’s behalf with hacks of Democratic operatives’ computers and how unnerving it was to hear Yahoo’s chief information security officer, Bob Lord, say that his company still had “not been able to identify” how one billion Yahoo accounts and their sensitive user information were hacked in 2013.

Even President Obama was taken aback by the speed at which this tipping point tipped. “I think that I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyberhacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies,” he told ABC News’s “This Week.”

At Christmas, Amazon.com taught yet more traditional retailers how hard the cybertipping point has hit retailing. Last week, Macy’s said it was slashing 10,000 jobs and closing dozens of stores because, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Macy’s hasn’t been able to solve consumers’ shift to online shopping.”

At first Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder, insisted that fake news stories carried by Facebook “surely had no impact” on the election and that saying so was “a pretty crazy idea.” But in a very close election it was not crazy at all.

Facebook — which wants all the readers and advertisers of the mainstream media but not to be saddled with its human editors and fact-checkers — is now taking more seriously its responsibilities as a news purveyor in cyberspace.

Alan S. Cohen, chief commercial officer of the cybersecurity firm Illumio (I am a small shareholder), noted in an interview on siliconAngle.com that the reason this tipping point tipped now was because so many companies, governments, universities, political parties and individuals have concentrated a critical mass of their data in enterprise data centers and cloud computing environments.

Ten years ago, said Cohen, bad guys did not have the capabilities to get at all this data and extract it, but “now they do,” and as more creative tools like big data and artificial intelligence get “weaponized,” this will become an even bigger problem. It’s a huge legal, moral and strategic problem, and it will require, said Cohen, “a new social compact” to defuse.

Work on that compact has to start with every school teaching children digital civics. And that begins with teaching them that the internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, where they need to bring skepticism and critical thinking to everything they read and basic civic decency to everything they write.

A Stanford Graduate School of Education study published in November found “a dismaying inability by students to reason about information they see on the internet. Students, for example, had a hard time distinguishing advertisements from news articles or identifying where information came from. … One assessment required middle schoolers to explain why they might not trust an article on financial planning that was written by a bank executive and sponsored by a bank. The researchers found that many students did not cite authorship or article sponsorship as key reasons for not believing the article.”

Prof. Sam Wineburg, the lead author of the report, said: “Many people assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally perceptive about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite to be true.”

In an era when more and more of our lives have moved to this digital realm, that is downright scary.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

There are economic tensions in the United States, insufficient to explain the election of a petulant egomaniac to the highest office in the land, and there’s an all-out culture war that does explain it.

Donald Trump will become president next week because a sufficient number of Americans have had it with the confining, tiptoeing, politically correct form of speech and interaction favored by liberal elites on the coasts who believe they hold a monopoly on wisdom and the only key to progress.

It’s the culture, stupid.

The issues that afflict the economy — rising inequality, stagnant middle-class incomes, marginalization — are not enough to explain Americans’ decision to leap off a cliff and entrust their fate to a collection of billionaires and ex-generals under the diktat of a thin-skinned showman of conspicuous “cruelty and ignorance,” in the words of Garrison Keillor.

Meryl Streep, in a speech at the Golden Globes awards ceremony, waded into this culture war. She was Hollywood lambasting the people’s choice. Without naming the president-elect, she singled out his cruelty, as expressed in Trump’s mocking imitation during the campaign of a reporter with a disability. They did that in the Middle Ages, you know.

Trump, goaded, is like a child whose candy has been taken away. He throws a fit. His version of a scream is a tweet (or in this case several) calling Streep “one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood,” and a “Hillary flunky,” and claiming — grotesquely — that he never mocked the reporter, my colleague Serge Kovaleski. Trump finished up with his usual gibe at the “very dishonest media.”

Trump’s psyche is no great riddle. He’s a study in neediness. Adulation is what he craves; admonishment he cannot abide. Trafficking in untruths and conspiracies, he calls the press that he secretly venerates dishonest for pointing this out. That’s called transference. Soon he will have at his disposal far more potent weapons than Twitter to assuage his irascibility and channel his cruelty. It is doubtful that he will resist them over time. There is rational cause for serious alarm. If the world was anchored by America, it is about to be unmoored.

Streep did an important thing in pointing to how Trump’s bullying allows open season for everyone’s inner bigot. A time of violence is upon us. She did another important thing in saying that, “We need the principled press to hold power to account.” If Trump sees himself as America’s “voice,” every countervoice is needed, loud and clear and persistent.

But will Streep’s words have any impact with Trump’s tens of millions of supporters, or will they redouble these people’s anger toward elites in Hollywood and other centers of dogmatic liberalism?

Meghan McCain, a conservative commentator and daughter of Senator John McCain, tweeted that, “This Meryl Streep speech is why Trump won. And if people in Hollywood don’t start recognizing why and how — you will get him re-elected.” She has a point. Trump lost the popular vote in November by 2.8 million. But outside California and New York, he won by 3 million. That’s America’s story in a nutshell.

Getting America out of its mess begins with the acknowledgment that New York and California do not have a stranglehold on truth, any more than Kansas and Missouri do. Out there in God-fearing gun country there are plenty of smart, upstanding Americans who, as Mark Lilla of Columbia University put it, paraphrasing Bernie Sanders, are “sick and tired of hearing about liberals’ damn bathrooms.”

Lilla, in the same important piece, identified the “moral panic about racial, gender and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message” as a principal cause of the Democrats’ defeat; and he also called out a “generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups” — specifically the working-class whites who voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

For this, of course, Lilla was widely vilified by the thought police of identity politics. His colleague at Columbia University, Katherine Franke, suggested he was doing the “nefarious background work of making white supremacy respectable. Again.” That’s an outrageous allegation but not one untypical of our times.

It’s not only the alt-right that wants to silence dissenting views. The alt-left is in full mobilization. Trump is a travesty. But just denouncing him without understanding him leads nowhere. As Michael Wolff pointed out in Newsweek, where liberals see an attack on free speech, Trump supporters see the media stifling “real speech.”

The weeks since Nov. 8 have demonstrated Trump’s contempt for his supporters. He wants to “drain the swamp” through nepotism, empower the marginalized through the coddling of the superrich, and toss the ethics of hard-working heartland Americans out the window of that gold-daubed apartment atop his tower. It’s been a stomach-turning display.

With time, more Americans will side with Streep. They will see that a mean, shallow actor has duped them. But to finish with Trump, liberals will also have to reckon with how they lost sight of their country.

Stuff it up your butt, Roger.  I’m sick unto death of being told I’m not a “real American” because I’m not a gun-humping, screeching member of y’all-Qaeda.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

If you happened to watch CNN on Friday morning, you saw a brutal exchange about Russian hacking between a righteous anchor with steam coming out of his ears and a right-wing operative with ice in her veins.

“Chris Cuomo bulldozes Kellyanne Conway,” said a headline in one of the many publications so impressed by the encounter that they reported on it.

If you happened to watch CNN on Monday morning, you saw that Conway was actually back with Cuomo for more.

Surprised? Then you don’t know the first thing about her.

She’s no mere mouthpiece, no measly surrogate. She’s more like the David Blaine of political spin, intent on working feats of magic that few others would attempt and surviving situations that would cripple any ordinary mortal. He catches a bullet in his mouth; she makes Donald Trump sound like a humble servant of the common man. He lasts 44 days in a plexiglass case over the Thames; she lasts 40 minutes with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

She reunited with Cuomo not just to pooh-pooh Vladimir Putin’s misdeeds anew but to answer Meryl Streep’s complaint about the way Trump once mocked a disabled journalist. And she came up with that gem about disregarding the president-elect’s words and judging him instead by what’s in his heart, which she apparently knows to be good. She has done Blaine one better. She’s a stuntwoman and a cardiologist.

As the cabinet nominees submit to their inquisitions and Trump holds his first news conference since the election, there’s a surfeit of political spectacle this week.

But for sheer, jaw-dropping wonder, I doubt that any of it will improve on a typical Conway television interview, which is a circus of euphemisms, a festival of distractions and a testament to the stamina of a willed smile. She looks cheery when attacking, even cheerier when attacked and absolutely radiant when descending into a bog of half-truths and fictions. It’s always sunny on Conway’s side of the street.

And it’s always a landslide when her candidate wins. She describes Trump’s victory as a mandate — never mind its narrowness or all that Russian nefariousness — and dismisses his critics by citing their inability to see that heady triumph coming. They had no foresight. Now they have no grounds.

Waving away what Hollywood stars said about Trump at the Golden Globes, she told Cuomo: “That place, this network, frankly, all believed the election would turn out a different way.”

She also questioned why Streep would go after Trump and not the “four young African-American adults in Chicago screaming racial anti-Trump expletives” at a disabled young man in that chilling Facebook Live video. Is this the new bar for taking Trump to task? You can’t do it until you’ve completed a roll call of every bully in the news?

“Saturday Night Live” is transfixed by Conway, but they don’t get her quite right. As portrayed by Kate McKinnon, she experiences pinpricks of horror over abetting Trump’s ascent. The real-life Conway shows no such remorse. She’s exultant to the point of taunting Hillary Clinton’s aides for their defeat, as she did when she appeared with them at Harvard in December for an election post-mortem.

That was the occasion of my favorite Conway-ism. She was asked if Trump’s baseless insistence that he would have won the popular vote except for millions of illegal ballots constituted presidential behavior.

“He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” she said.

Many journalists don’t get Conway quite right, either, assigning her more power in Trump World than she has. When you’re doing that much TV, you can be in only so many meetings.

What she possesses is a showmanship that Trump can’t help appreciating. I know dozens of people who despise her politics but are mesmerized by her performances. She’s the Streep of “Fox & Friends” (of “Morning Joe,” too) and a perfect emblem of these polarized times, when no claim is too laughable or denial too ludicrous if it counters the supposed insidiousness of the other side.

She’s also the gold-haired standard for a rising generation of unflappable partisans. I imagine that Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump apologist on CNN, studies her moves the way a backup quarterback watches the starter. Should Conway go down with a broken fibula, McEnany’s ready to lead the drive.

The Trump booster Anthony Scaramucci is perhaps another of the sorceress’ apprentices. With MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle last week, he was Conway-esque in pivoting from the questions he was asked to the answers he preferred to give.

But he needs practice: I heard nothing at the altitude of Conway’s claim this week that the Democrats demanding more financial information from Trump’s nominees were “political peeping Toms.” What pith. What alliteration. What a year we’re in for.

Brooks and Rosenthal

January 10, 2017

In “Bannon Versus Trump” Bobo gurgles that the larger battle is over whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party.  Will become?  Really, Bobo?  WILL become?  With Sessions as the possible new Attorney General?  Mr. Rosenthal, in “Republican Hypocrisy on Trump’s Nominees,” says Mitch McConnell used to be demanding when it came to presidential nominees. How times have changed.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment by “soxared, 04-07-13” from Crete, IL:

It’s becoming clear that for the next few years American foreign policy will be shaped by the struggle among Republican regulars, populist ethno-nationalists and the forces of perpetual chaos unleashed by Donald Trump’s attention span.

The Republican regulars build their grand strategies upon the post-World War II international order — the American-led alliances, norms and organizations that bind democracies and preserve global peace. The regulars seek to preserve and extend this order, and see Vladimir Putin as a wolf who tears away at it.

The populist ethno-nationalists in the Trump White House do not believe in this order. Their critique — which is simultaneously moral, religious, economic, political and racial — is nicely summarized in the remarks Steve Bannon made to a Vatican conference in 2014.

Once there was a collection of Judeo-Christian nation-states, Bannon argued, that practiced a humane form of biblical capitalism and fostered culturally coherent communities. But in the past few decades, the party of Davos — with its globalism, relativism, pluralism and diversity — has sapped away the moral foundations of this Judeo-Christian way of life.

Humane capitalism has been replaced by the savage capitalism that brought us the financial crisis. National democracy has been replaced by a crony-capitalist network of global elites. Traditional virtue has been replaced by abortion and gay marriage. Sovereign nation-states are being replaced by hapless multilateral organizations like the E.U.

Decadent and enervated, the West lies vulnerable in the face of a confident and convicted Islamofascism, which is the cosmic threat of our time.

In this view, Putin is a valuable ally precisely because he also seeks to replace the multiracial, multilingual global order with strong nation-states. Putin ardently defends traditional values. He knows how to take the fight to radical Islam.

It’s actually interesting to read Donald Trump’s ideologist, Bannon, next to Putin’s ideologist Alexander Dugin. It’s like going back to the 20th century and reading two versions of Marxism.

One is American Christian and the other orthodox Russian, but both have grandiose, sweeping theories of world history, both believe we’re in an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, both seamlessly combine economic, moral and political analysis. Both self-consciously see themselves as part of a loosely affiliated international populist movement, including the National Front in France, Nigel Farage in Britain and many others. Dugin wrote positively about Trump last winter, and Bannon referred to Dugin in his Vatican remarks.

“We must create strategic alliances to overthrow the present order of things,” Dugin has written, “of which the core could be described as human rights, anti-hierarchy and political correctness — everything that is the face of the Beast, the Antichrist.”

“We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes,” Bannon said, “particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”

Last week’s intelligence report on Russian hacking brought the Republican regulars, like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, into direct conflict with the ethno-nationalist populists. Trump planted himself firmly in the latter camp, and dragged Fox News and a surprising number of congressional Republicans with him.

If Trump were as effective as Putin, we’d probably see a radical shift in American grand strategy, a shift away from the postwar global consensus and toward an alliance with various right-wing populist movements simmering around the globe.

But Trump is no Putin. Putin is theological and cynical, disciplined and calculating, experienced and knowledgeable. When Bannon, Michael Flynn and others try to make Trump into a revolutionary foreign policy president, they will be taking on the entire foreign policy establishment under a leader who may sympathize with them, but is inattentive, unpredictable and basically uninterested in anything but his own status at the moment.

I’m personally betting the foreign policy apparatus, including the secretaries of state and defense, will grind down the populists around Trump. Frictions will explode within the insanely confusing lines of authority in the White House. Trump will find he likes hanging around the global establishment the way he liked having the Clintons at his wedding. In office he won’t be able to fixate on ISIS but will face a blizzard of problems, and thus be dependent on the established institutions.

The result may be a million astounding tweets, but substantively no fundamental strategic shift — not terrible policy-making, but not good policy-making, either.

The larger battle is over ideas, whether the Republican Party as a whole will become an ethno-populist party like the National Front or the U.K. Independence Party. In this fight the populists might do better. There’s something malevolently forceful about their ideology, which does remind you of Marxism in its early days. There’s something flaccid about globalism, which is de-spiritualized and which doesn’t really have an answer for our economic and cultural problems.

In short, I suspect Steve Bannon is going to fail to corral the peripatetic brain of Donald Trump. But he may have more influence on the next generation.

If Bannon influences the next generation then I’m profoundly glad that I only have a few more years to live.  Here’s the comment from “soxared, 04-07-13:”

“Mr. Brooks, this column defines the utter chaos to come. And when Stephen Bannon is the architect of the next president’s worldview, well, we’re not at the lip of the abyss, we’re already plummeting.

Bannon, quite frankly, is a white nationalist. He’s Dylann Roof without the rap sheet of nine souls destroyed. Bannon is the lieutenant in the army of the “Judeo-Christian West” that has drawn a line in the sand against multiculturalism. As I read this devil’s script for international anarchy, all I could think of was that Bannon and Vladimir Putin’s own Bannon, Aleksandr Dugin have in mind a joint dual national program to eliminate Islam from the world’s face and, in the process, begin the systematic subjugation of mankind, those peoples not to their liking. Bannon, please recall, will be at Trump’s elbow in the Oval Office.

The absolutism of both Bannon and Dugan, are quite terrifying. The danger to our Republic, though, is the next president. It has been amply documented that his infinitesimal attention span is the last link in the chain of sanity. Its end is perilously close.

Leavening the loaf in the hellish oven until it is ripe are your GOP “ethno-nationalist populists.” Start with Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, the Senate and House leaders, who worked assiduously to mine President Obama’s tenure with failure; both are viciously hostile to democracy. Putin is their soul mate, all things considered.

The “cosmic threat of our time” is the looming Trump administration.”

And now here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Constitution and American tradition provide lots of ways for a president to exercise executive power.

The president can, for example, create an agenda and propose legislation to Congress to carry it out; appoint cabinet members, with the Senate providing its advice and consent, and use the platform of the presidency to talk to Americans about important issues.

When the modern-day Republicans are in charge of the White House and Congress, of course, law, tradition and principle have little meaning.

Senator Mitch McConnell once said his party’s most important task was to deny Obama a second term. In February 2009, he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid, then the majority leader, saying there could be no action on Obama’s nominees pending a long list of demands, including completion of reviews by the Office of Government Ethics. McConnell only escalated when Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014 and by last year he was refusing even to consider any Supreme Court nomination Obama might make.

So how will things be with our new Republican president?

We don’t really know what agenda Donald Trump will pursue, since he didn’t offer anything like a realistic one to voters. He takes office thanks to the obsolete and undemocratic Electoral College, as the second Republican president in a row to be rejected by a substantial majority of voters.

With the inauguration less than two weeks away, it’s certainly looking as if McConnell’s Republican Senate majority will do a complete about-face and rush through Trump’s appointments without the process on which senators used to insist.

McConnell and his cronies have crammed the Senate schedule full of confirmation hearings for Trump’s selections for major cabinet officials, including several of the biggest positions for this Wednesday.

Unfortunately, not all of these candidates have been through the customary vetting process. Last week, the Office of Government Ethics informed congressional Democrats that it had not yet had time to screen all of the Trump appointees, which created “potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.” Democrats want to delay some hearings until the candidates can be vetted.

McConnell’s response to Democrats’ concerns has been typically cynical and hypocritical.

This year, he’s telling Democrats to “grow up.” “All of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustration at having not only lost the White House, but having lost the Senate,” he said on Sunday.

Ethics review is hardly a “little procedural complaint,” especially since the Trump camp reportedly did far less than previous presidential transition teams to vet candidates before nominating them. Of course, since Trump won’t clear up the endless conflicts of interest involving his business interests and those of his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whom he is appointing to a senior White House role, why should we expect him to be concerned about his appointees’ conflicts?

If you think Trump’s partisan handmaidens in Congress are going to do the vetting for him, then you haven’t been paying much attention to American politics. What you can expect is a once-over-lightly review by the Republicans and efforts to thwart any Democrats who try to do the vetting.

So what about the “bully pulpit” that the presidency is going to give Trump once he takes office? The problem is that we are not supposed to take anything that Trump says seriously.

On Monday, Trump tore into Meryl Streep for mentioning in her Golden Globes speech that he had mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during the campaign. Trump said, as he had before, that he had never mocked Kovaleski, despite videos viewed millions of times online that show him doing exactly that.

The problem, according to Trump’s chief propagandist, Kellyanne Conway, is that people are actually paying attention to what Trump says.

“You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth,” Conway sneered. Instead, she said, we should all “look at what’s in his heart.”

After Trump was elected, he told Times editors, reporters and business executives that he wasn’t interested in prosecuting Hillary Clinton anymore. The next day, he was smirking triumphantly while his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”

Does he believe in his heart that Clinton should be behind bars? Or does he believe what he said in a crowded conference room at The Times the day before? Or neither?

The sad truth is, we’re never going to know. We will never be able to trust what Trump tells us about his principles, his policies and his intentions as president — if he bothers to tell us anything at all. Mostly, we’re all just supposed to read his mind.

Blow and Krugman

January 9, 2017

In “Donald Trump and the Tainted Presidency” Mr. Blow says a hostile foreign power got its way.  Prof. Krugman, in “Deficits Matter Again,” explains why the Trump-Putin economy isn’t like Obama’s.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The more we learn about Russia’s hacking and the release of its electronic loot during our presidential election, the more it becomes clear that Donald Trump’s victory and his imminent presidency are already tainted beyond redemption.

While Russian hacks “were not involved in vote tallying,” the publishing of pilfered emails and promulgation of fake news altered the zeitgeist, poisoned the political environment and shifted public opinion, all of which redounded to Trump’s benefit.

Donald Trump is as much Russia’s appointment as our elected executive. The legacy of his political ascendance will be written in Cyrillic and affixed with an asterisk.

Do not let this be buried in the pundits’ blathering: A hostile foreign power stole confidential correspondence from American citizens — this is no different than physically breaking into an American office and carting off boxes of written letters — and funneled that stolen material to a willing conspirator, Julian Assange. The foreign power then had its desired result achieved on our Election Day.

This was an act of war and our presidency was the spoil.

This is not to say that some of what was revealed about the Democrats in the hacked emails wasn’t disturbing. It was, although most of the emails simply showed the unappetizing process by which the sausage is made. What made the leaks feel fishy was the absolute asymmetry of the targeting — it was Democratic only.

Putin helped to defeat a woman, Hillary Clinton, who promised to be a staunch adversary and helped elevate in her stead a Troglodytic lout who somehow believes that the snake that coils itself around you is just giving you a hug, and who sounded so pro-Vladimir Putin that he did everything but blow kisses at the Kremlin.

On Friday, intelligence officials released a damning report on the Russian hacking that read: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

On the same day, Trump was briefed on the hacking by intelligence officials, after which he released an incredulous statement claiming “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

(Ironically, that also happened to be the same day that a joint session of Congress performed its perfunctory duty of counting the Electoral College votes and verifying Trump’s victory.)

No sir, Mr. Trump, as is your wont, your assertions stretch well beyond your proof. An impact that cannot be measured is not the same as an impact that does not exist. The question isn’t “if” but “how much”; not the existence of impact but the degree to which that impact was dispositive.

The intelligence community did not say that the Russian hacking had “no effect on the outcome of the election,” but rather stated quite clearly: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The U.S. Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.”

You twist the truth like a string of yarn caught in a fan. But eventually, you and every citizen of this country must face the fact that you were not only elected but also installed, that your victory will be forever tangled up in the yellow tape of an international crime scene.

No wonder then that you have systematically sought to denigrate all inquiry into this act of cyber warfare that the intelligence report called “unprecedented.” You have scorned our intelligence agencies — you tweet “intelligence” in quotes the same way that we should eventually use quotes around the word “president” when it precedes your name — and you have continued your assault on the press.

On Friday, Trump told my colleague Michael Shear that the focus on the hacking amounted to “a political witch hunt.” Wrong again. It’s a truth hunt. Furthermore, the only person subjected to a witch hunt in this election was named Hillary.

Yes, as you repeatedly exclaimed before the votes were cast, the election was rigged, not by widespread voter fraud, as you falsely suggested, but rather by widespread dissemination of fraudulently obtained information. It is no coincidence that WikiLeaks began to release John Podesta’s emails just an hour after Trump’s disgusting “grab them by the [expletive]” Access Hollywood tape surfaced.

Mr. Trump, your victory is tainted; your legitimacy is rightly in question. The American people cast their ballots in the fog of fake news and under influence of stolen property weaponized as a tool of propaganda.

Some may hesitate to say that the American presidency was stolen, but it is irrefutable that the integrity of our democratic process was injured when the sanctity of what we considered uncorrupted self-determination was assaulted.

Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s American “president” — clearly his preference and possibly his product.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Not long ago prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, liked to warn in apocalyptic terms about the dangers of budget deficits, declaring that a Greek-style crisis was just around the corner. But now, suddenly, those very same politicians are perfectly happy with the prospect of deficits swollen by tax cuts; the budget resolution they’re considering would, according to their own estimates, add $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. Hey, no problem.

This sudden turnaround comes as a huge shock to absolutely nobody — at least nobody with any sense. All that posturing about the deficit was obvious flimflam, whose purpose was to hobble a Democratic president, and it was completely predictable that the pretense of being fiscally responsible would be dropped as soon as the G.O.P. regained the White House.

What wasn’t quite so predictable, however, was that Republicans would stop pretending to care about deficits at almost precisely the moment that deficits were starting to matter again.

Those apocalyptic warnings are still foolish: America, which borrows in its own currency and therefore can’t run out of cash, isn’t at all like Greece. But running big deficits is no longer harmless, let alone desirable.

The way it was: Eight years ago, with the economy in free fall, I wrote that we had entered an era of “depression economics,” in which the usual rules of economic policy no longer applied, in which virtue was vice and prudence was folly. In particular, deficit spending was essential to support the economy, and attempts to balance the budget would be destructive.

This diagnosis — shared by most professional economists — didn’t come out of thin air; it was based on well-established macroeconomic principles. Furthermore, the predictions that came out of those principles held up very well. In the depressed economy that prevailed for years after the financial crisis, government borrowing didn’t drive up interest rates, money creation by the Fed didn’t cause inflation, and nations that tried to slash budget deficits experienced severe recessions.

But these predictions were always conditional, applying only to an economy far from full employment. That was the kind of economy President Obama inherited; but the Trump-Putin administration will, instead, come into power at a time when full employment has been more or less restored.

How do we know that we’re close to full employment? The low official unemployment rate is just one indicator. What I find more compelling are two facts: Wages are finally rising reasonably fast, showing that workers have bargaining power again, and the rate at which workers are quitting their jobs, an indication of how confident they are of finding new jobs, is back to pre-crisis levels.

What changes once we’re close to full employment? Basically, government borrowing once again competes with the private sector for a limited amount of money. This means that deficit spending no longer provides much if any economic boost, because it drives up interest rates and “crowds out” private investment.

Now, government borrowing can still be justified if it serves an important purpose: Interest rates are still very low, and borrowing at those low rates to invest in much-needed infrastructure is still a very good idea, both because it would raise productivity and because it would provide a bit of insurance against future downturns. But while candidate Trump talked about increasing public investment, there’s no sign at all that congressional Republicans are going to make such investment a priority.

No, they’re going to blow up the deficit mainly by cutting taxes on the wealthy. And that won’t do anything significant to boost the economy or create jobs. In fact, by crowding out investment it will somewhat reduce long-term economic growth. Meanwhile, it will make the rich richer, even as cuts in social spending make the poor poorer and undermine security for the middle class. But that, of course, is the intention.

Again, none of this implies an economic catastrophe. If such a catastrophe does come, it will be thanks to other policies, like a rollback of financial regulation, or from outside events like a crisis in China or Europe. And because stuff does happen, and a lot depends on how the U.S. government responds when it does, we should be concerned that the incoming administration only seems to take economic advice from people who have consistently been wrong about, well, everything.

But back to deficits: the crucial point is not that Republicans were hypocritical. It is, instead, that their hypocrisy made us poorer. They screamed about the evils of debt at a time when bigger deficits would have done a lot of good, and are about to blow up deficits at a time when they will do harm.