Cohen and Krugman

In “The Arab Withering” Mr. Cohen tells us how the civic spirit of the Arab Spring gave way to the brutal theocracy of the Islamic State.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trump and Taxes,” says his personal returns, his shifting policy proposals and how he picked his experts ar

This seems to be the week for Trump tax mysteries. One mystery is why Donald Trump, unlike every other major party nominee in modern times, is refusing to release his tax returns. The other is why, having decided that he needs experts to clean up his ludicrous tax-cut proposals, he chose to call on the services of the gang that couldn’t think straight.

On the first mystery: Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. On the contrary, the fact that he’s being audited (or at least that he says he’s being audited) should make it easier for him to go public — after all, he needn’t fear triggering an audit! Clearly, he must be hiding something. What?

It could be how little he pays in taxes, a revelation that hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But I doubt it; given how Mr. Trump rolls, he’d probably boast that his ability to game the tax system shows how smart he is compared to all the losers out there.

So my guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he’s only worth a couple of billion — maybe even less than a billion — would be utterly humiliating. So he’ll try to tough it out. Of course, if he does, we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, however, we can look at the candidate’s policy proposals. And what has been going on there is just as revealing, in its own way, as his attempt to dodge scrutiny of his personal finances.

The story so far: Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich. And it would also, according to nonpartisan analyses, cause deficits to explode, adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade.

Now, the inconsistency between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his specific proposals didn’t seem to hurt him in the Republican primaries. Neither did the wild irresponsibility of those specifics, perhaps because all the major contenders for the G.O.P. nomination were proposing huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the rich. True, none of them were quite as off the charts as the Trump plan, but such distinctions were probably lost on primary voters — $4 trillion, $10 trillion, who cares?

Having secured the nomination, however, Mr. Trump apparently feels the need to seem more respectable. The goal, I suspect, is to bring the headline numbers down enough to let the media’s propensity for false equivalence kick in. Hillary Clinton has a plan that actually adds up, while Donald Trump has a plan that will cost $4 trillion, but which he claims is deficit-neutral? Hey, it’s the same thing!

Oh, and meanwhile he suggested once again that he might raise taxes on the rich, then walked it back, with credulous media eating it all up.

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

So why would Mr. Trump turn to these of all people to, ahem, fix his numbers?

e all mysterious.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A little over five years ago I was with my colleague Robert F. Worth in Pierre Sioufi’s rambling apartment overlooking Tahrir Square in Cairo. We watched as the Egyptian people rose to overthrow the 30-year-old dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and stake its claim to citizenship, representation, dignity and the rule of law.

Bearded members of the Muslim Brotherhood, their skin scarred by the torture of Mubarak’s security state, embraced secular Egyptian liberals and declared common cause. Young men and women, their eyes burning with conviction, proclaimed that the 18 days in Tahrir had given their lives meaning for the first time by demonstrating the power to effect change. They had discovered agency; they would build a better Egypt. Alaa Al Aswany, an Egyptian novelist, told the crowd: “The revolution is a new birth, not just for Egypt but on an individual level. It’s like falling in love: you become a better person.”

Those were heady days. It was impossible not to suspend one’s disbelief. The army was impassive, the Brotherhood restrained and Twitter-empowered Arab youth ascendant. Liberation unfurled in a wave unseen since 1989.

After the fall less than a month earlier of the Tunisian dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it seemed the frozen, decades-long Arab confrontation of cynical dictators and repressed Islamists — fecund in the incubation of jihadi terrorists — had given way to the possibility of more inclusive societies. If Egypt, home to about a quarter of the world’s Arab population, could see the birth of meaningful citizenship, festering Arab humiliation would be replaced by empowering dignity. The West might escape its conspiracy-fueled place in the Arab mind as the hypocritical enabler of every iniquity. That would be a more powerful boost to its security than any far-flung war in Muslim lands.

It was not to be. Five years on, Tahrir has the quality of a dream. Read Worth’s remarkable new book, “A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, From Tahrir Square to ISIS,” and weep. The chasm between the civic spirit of the square and the brutal theocracy of the Islamic State reveals the extent of the failure.

The book is a beautifully written chronicle, told through the struggles of ordinary people, of shattered hopes, lives, families and societies. Worth excavates the personal wounds revelatory of larger betrayals. Everywhere outside Tunisia, sect, tribe and the Mukhabarat (secret police) prove stronger than the aspiration for institutions capable of mediating differences and bringing the elusive “karama,” or dignity, that, as Worth notes, was the “rallying cry of all the uprisings.”

Who should be blamed for this epic failure? The Muslim Brotherhood for reneging on its promise not to contest Egypt’s first post-uprising presidential election? The Egyptian army and corrupt “deep state” for never giving the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi (“the country’s first democratically elected president in six thousand years of history”) the means to govern? Morsi himself for his foolish power grabs, inept rigidity and inability to realize that he had to demonstrate he was everyone’s president, not merely the Brotherhood’s? Egyptian liberals for so quickly abandoning the idea of democracy to side with the military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and his bloody coup that the United States never called by its name?

Or was it Syria’s Bashar al-Assad for burying the Syrian uprising in rivers of blood? Or Saudi money cynically deployed against every agent of liberalizing transformation? Or a wavering Obama administration that, as in Iran in 2009, and Syria since 2011, has wrapped itself in righteous caution as the winds of change coursed through the Middle East? Or the feckless West that intervened in Libya only to abandon it? Or, simply, the impossibility of delivering more liberal, representative societies to a region where political Islam invokes not the power of the people but the all-pervasive authority of God?

Worth does not judge. He reveals. He notes the remarkable compromises in Tunisia between the Islamist party, Ennahda, and the old secular guard that has enabled this small country, alone, to realize something of the hopes of 2011.

Leadership counts; Tunisia found a leader in Rached Ghannouchi, an Islamist whose long exile in Britain taught him the life-saving wisdom of democratic give and take. Elsewhere in the Arab world, there has been nothing resembling leadership.

But, with equal force, Worth demonstrates how the failure of 2011 led many who had sought but not found dignity to seek it anew in a border-straddling land controlled by the Islamic State. When the dream of the uprisings evaporated, he writes, “many gave way to apathy or despair, or even nostalgia for the old regimes they had assailed. But some ran headlong into the seventh century in search of the same prize” — a place “they could call their own, a state that shielded its subjects from humiliation and despair.”

This shocking last sentence of “A Rage for Order” is the measure of the world’s dilemma in the bloodstained ruins of the Arab Spring. How, after all, can anyone see the barbaric practices of ISIS in those terms?

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This seems to be the week for Trump tax mysteries. One mystery is why Donald Trump, unlike every other major party nominee in modern times, is refusing to release his tax returns. The other is why, having decided that he needs experts to clean up his ludicrous tax-cut proposals, he chose to call on the services of the gang that couldn’t think straight.

On the first mystery: Mr. Trump’s excuse, that he can’t release his returns while they’re being audited, is an obvious lie. On the contrary, the fact that he’s being audited (or at least that he says he’s being audited) should make it easier for him to go public — after all, he needn’t fear triggering an audit! Clearly, he must be hiding something. What?

It could be how little he pays in taxes, a revelation that hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But I doubt it; given how Mr. Trump rolls, he’d probably boast that his ability to game the tax system shows how smart he is compared to all the losers out there.

So my guess, shared by a number of observers, is that the dirty secret hidden in those returns is that he isn’t as rich as he claims to be. In Trumpworld, the revelation that he’s only worth a couple of billion — maybe even less than a billion — would be utterly humiliating. So he’ll try to tough it out. Of course, if he does, we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, however, we can look at the candidate’s policy proposals. And what has been going on there is just as revealing, in its own way, as his attempt to dodge scrutiny of his personal finances.

The story so far: Last fall Mr. Trump suggested that he would break with Republican orthodoxy by raising taxes on the wealthy. But then he unveiled a tax plan that would, in fact, lavish huge tax cuts on the rich. And it would also, according to nonpartisan analyses, cause deficits to explode, adding around $10 trillion to the national debt over a decade.

Now, the inconsistency between Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and his specific proposals didn’t seem to hurt him in the Republican primaries. Neither did the wild irresponsibility of those specifics, perhaps because all the major contenders for the G.O.P. nomination were proposing huge, budget-busting tax cuts for the rich. True, none of them were quite as off the charts as the Trump plan, but such distinctions were probably lost on primary voters — $4 trillion, $10 trillion, who cares?

Having secured the nomination, however, Mr. Trump apparently feels the need to seem more respectable. The goal, I suspect, is to bring the headline numbers down enough to let the media’s propensity for false equivalence kick in. Hillary Clinton has a plan that actually adds up, while Donald Trump has a plan that will cost $4 trillion, but which he claims is deficit-neutral? Hey, it’s the same thing!

Oh, and meanwhile he suggested once again that he might raise taxes on the rich, then walked it back, with credulous media eating it all up.

But what’s really interesting is whom, according to Politico, Mr. Trump has brought in to revise his plans: Larry Kudlow of CNBC and Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation. That news had economic analysts spitting out their morning coffee all across America.

For those who don’t follow such things, Mr. Kudlow has a record of being wrong about, well, everything. In 2005 he ridiculed “bubbleheads who expect housing-price crashes in Las Vegas or Naples, Florida, to bring down the consumer, the rest of the economy, and the entire stock market” — which was exactly what happened. In 2007 he predicted three years of “Goldilocks” prosperity. And on and on.

Mr. Moore has a comparable forecasting record, but he also has a remarkable inability to get facts straight. Perhaps most famously, he once attempted to rebut, well, me with an article detailing the supposed benefits of state tax cuts; incredibly, not one of the many numbers in that article was right.

So why would Mr. Trump turn to these of all people to, ahem, fix his numbers?

It could be a peace offering, an attempt to reassure insiders by bringing in Mr. Kudlow and Mr. Moore, who are influential members of the Republican establishment — which incidentally tells you a lot about their party.

But my guess is that the explanation is simpler: The candidate has no idea who is and isn’t competent. I mean, it’s not as if he has any independent knowledge of economics, or even knows what he doesn’t know. For example, he keeps asserting that America has the world’s highest taxes, when we’re actually at the bottom among advanced nations.

So he probably just went with a couple of guys he’s seen on TV, assuming that they must be there because they know their stuff.

Now, you might wonder how someone that careless and incurious was such a huge success in business. But one answer is, how successful was he, really? What’s in those tax returns?

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2 Responses to “Cohen and Krugman”

  1. John in NY Says:

    I would guess Trump’s taxes are closely tied to the Icahn business per the SEC documents. During the course of his bankruptcies Trump Entertainment Resorts, INC. was showing losses. Notwithstanding a lack of a paper trail it stands to reason that Trump personally engaged in malfeasance to sustain his life style. As for his policy romps it is hard to be certain if he has any serious intention of ever comprehending his positions so I believe he is not concerned since he would lead with a hand on the till and his eye off the ball.

  2. Bill in Madrid Says:

    Most of us listened to the harangue over Trump’s self styled campaign. We were intrigued by his channeled funding. He loaned the campaign money after he’d been assured of a return on his investment by the RNC. He borrowed from himself to pay himself and then make a profit on the return by the RNC. A billionaire’s money is cleaned by the RNC and the crowd is watching the fading Cruz dazed and confused. It’s what we get for letting him get this far.

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