Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Krugman

May 22, 2017

In “Blood in the Water” Mr. Blow says it doesn’t seem possible that Mike Pence knew nothing.  In “The Unfreeing of the American Worker” Prof. Krugman says we are creeping along the real road to serfdom.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.

There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.

Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.

But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:

“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”

Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.

Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.

There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.

There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.

Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?

Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.

The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.

Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.

How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:

“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”

It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.

We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.

The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.

The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

American conservatives love to talk about freedom. Milton Friedman’s famous pro-capitalist book and TV series were titled “Free to Choose.” And the hard-liners in the House pushing for a complete dismantling of Obamacare call themselves the Freedom Caucus.

Well, why not? After all, America is an open society, in which everyone is free to make his or her own choices about where to work and how to live.

Everyone, that is, except the 30 million workers now covered by noncompete agreements, who may find themselves all but unemployable if they quit their current jobs; the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions who will be effectively unable to buy individual health insurance, and hence stuck with their current employers, if the Freedom Caucus gets its way; and the millions of Americans burdened down by heavy student and other debt.

The reality is that Americans, especially American workers, don’t feel all that free. The Gallup World Survey asks residents of many countries whether they feel that they have “freedom to make life choices”; the U.S. doesn’t come out looking too good, especially compared with the high freedom grades of European nations with strong social safety nets.

And you can make a strong case that we’re getting less free as time goes by.

Let’s talk first about those noncompete agreements, which were recently the subject of a stunning article in The Times (the latest in a series), plus a report from the Obama administration pushing for limits to the practice.

Noncompete agreements were originally supposed to be about protecting trade secrets, and therefore helping to promote innovation and investment in job training. Suppose that a company trying to build a better mousetrap hires a new mousetrap engineer. Her employment contract might very well include a clause preventing her from leaving a few months later for a job with a rival pest-control firm, since she could be taking crucial in-house information with her. And that’s perfectly reasonable.

At this point, however, almost one in five American employees is subject to some kind of noncompete clause. There can’t be that many workers in possession of valuable trade secrets, especially when many of these workers are in relatively low-paying jobs. For example, one prominent case involved Jimmy John’s, a sandwich chain, basically trying to ban its former franchisees from working for other sandwich makers.

Furthermore, the terms of the clauses are often defined ridiculously widely. It’s as if our hypothetical mousetrap engineer were prohibited from seeking employment with any other manufacturing firm, or in any occupation that makes use of her engineering skills.

At this point, in other words, noncompete clauses are in many cases less about protecting trade secrets than they are about tying workers to their current employers, unable to bargain for better wages or quit to take better jobs.

This shouldn’t be happening in America, and to be fair some politicians in both parties have been speaking up about the need for change (although few expect the Trump administration to follow up on the Obama administration’s reform push). But there’s another aspect of declining worker freedom that is very much a partisan issue: health care.

Until 2014, there was basically only one way Americans under 65 with pre-existing conditions could get health insurance: by finding an employer willing to offer coverage. Some employers were in fact willing to do so. Why? Because there were major tax advantages — premiums aren’t counted as taxable income — but to get those advantages employer plans must offer the same coverage to every employee, regardless of medical history.

But what if you wanted to change jobs, or start your own business? Too bad: you were basically stuck (and I knew quite a few people in that position).

Then Obamacare went into effect, guaranteeing affordable care even to those with pre-existing medical conditions. This was a hugely liberating change for millions. Even if you didn’t immediately take advantage of the new program to strike out on your own, the fact was that now you could.

But maybe not for much longer. Trumpcare — the American Health Care Act — would drastically reduce protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions. And even if that bill never becomes law, the Trump administration is effectively sabotaging individual insurance markets, so that in many cases Americans who lose employer coverage will have no place to turn — which will in turn tie those who do have such coverage to their current employers.

You might say, with only a bit of hyperbole, that workers in America, supposedly the land of the free, are actually creeping along the road to serfdom, yoked to corporate employers the way Russian peasants were once tied to their masters’ land. And the people pushing them down that road are the very people who cry “freedom” the loudest.

Blow and Krugman

May 15, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump’s Madness Invites Mutiny,” and that we may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Priming of Mr. Donald Trump,” says he’s not the only one with fiscal fantasies.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When people behave as if they have something to hide, it is often because they do. For me, this is a basic law of human behavior.

That’s why President Trump’s baffling, outrageous, unfathomable and just plain bizarre behavior last week strengthened my already strong suspicions that there is something that Trump knows about the investigations into his campaign’s contacts with Russia that he doesn’t want us to know.

That is the only way that I can make sense of what happened: These are either the machinations of concealment, expressions of a burgeoning insanity, or both.

The details of the most recent episode in the Trump madness are now well known and yet every new detail that helps add texture to the story also renders it more horrifyingly egregious.

According to news reports (some of which the White House disputes, I hasten to add), after former F.B.I. Director James Comey refused to pledge loyalty to Trump, publicly rebuked some of Trump’s lies, and sought to intensify the bureau’s investigation into the Russia connections, Trump unceremoniously dismissed him. He then let his surrogates go out — or possibly sent them out — to lie about why Comey was fired. And then Trump tweeted a threat at Comey that seemed like an attempt to bully him into remaining quiet.

Who does that?

Legal and ethical questions abound about the impropriety and even legality of attempting to strong-arm, and then dismissing and threatening, the law enforcement official leading an investigation into your circle of associates.

Many of those questions rise not from clandestine sources, but rather from Trump himself. He is talking and tweeting himself into legal jeopardy. He can’t seem to help himself. Something in the man is broken.

He is insecure, paranoid and brittle, jostling between egomania and narcissism, intoxicated with a power beyond his meager comprehension and indulging in it beyond the point of abuse.

Some people are ebulliently optimistic that the abomination is coming undone and may soon be at an end.

But I would caution that this is a moment pregnant with calamity.

The man we see unraveling before our eyes still retains the power of the presidency until such time as he doesn’t, and that time of termination is by no means assured.

Trump is now a wounded animal, desperate and dangerous. Survival is an overwhelming, instinctual impulse, and one should put nothing beyond a being who is bent on ensuring it.

Banking on an easy impeachment or resignation or a shiny set of handcuffs is incredibly tempting for those drained and depressed by Trump’s unabated absurdities, perversions of truth and facts and assaults on custom, normalcy and civility.

But banking on this is, at this point, premature. I share the yearning. A case for removal can most definitely be made and has merit. But there remain untold steps between plausibility and probability. Expectations must be managed so that hopes aren’t dashed if the mark isn’t immediately met.

There are incredibly encouraging signs that the Comey debacle has crystallized sentiment about the severity of Trump’s abnormality and the urgent need for an independent investigation into the Russia connection.

Last week after Comey was fired, 20 attorneys general sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to immediately appoint an independent special counsel to oversee the investigation. The letter read in part:

“As the chief law enforcement officers of our respective states, we view the President’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey in the middle of his investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election as a violation of the public trust. As prosecutors committed to the rule of law, we urge you to consider the damage to our democratic system of any attempts by the administration to derail and delegitimize the investigation.

Furthermore, according to a poll released on Thursday: “A majority of Americans — 54 percent — think that President Donald Trump’s abrupt dismissal of F.B.I. Director James Comey was not appropriate, while 46 percent think that Comey was fired due to the Russia investigation, according to results from a new NBC News|SurveyMonkey poll.”

This followed a Quinnipiac Poll taken before the Comey firing that found: “American voters, who gave President Donald Trump a slight approval bump after the missile strike in Syria, today give him a near-record negative 36-58 percent job approval rating.”

The report continued: “Critical are big losses among white voters with no college degree, white men and independent voters.”

The army of righteous truth-seekers is gathering; the hordes of sycophants are faltering. The challenge now is to keep the media’s microscope trained on this issue and to keep applying sufficient pressure to elected officials.

We may have reached an inflection point at which even partisans grow weary of the barrage of lies and the indefensible behavior, and Republican representatives finally realize that they are constitutional officers who must defend the country even if it damages their party.

Something is happening. It’s in the air. It is an awakening, it is an adjustment, it is a growing up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has said many strange things in recent interviews. One can only imagine, for example, what America’s military leaders thought about his rambling, word-salad musings about how to improve our aircraft carriers.

Over here in Econoland, however, the buzz was all about Trump’s expressed willingness, in an interview with the Economist magazine, to pursue tax cuts even if they increase deficits, because “we have to prime the pump” — an expression he claimed to have invented. “I came up with it a couple of days ago and I thought it was good.”

Actually, the expression goes back generations — F.D.R. used it in a 1937 speech — and has been used many times since, including several times by Trump himself. What’s more, it’s a bad metaphor for modern times. Twenty years ago, in a paper warning that Japanese-style problems might eventually come to America, I urged that the phrase be withdrawn from circulation: “Since hardly anybody in the thoroughly urbanized societies of modern America and Japan has any idea what it means to prime a pump, I hereby suggest that we rename this the jump-start strategy.”

But why should anyone besides pedants care?

First, a mind is a terrible thing to lose. Senior moments, when you can’t remember a name or phrase, or misremember where it came from, happen to many of us. But that Economist interview was basically one long senior moment — and it wasn’t very different from other recent interviews with the commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Second, we’re talking about some really bad economics here. There are times when temporary deficit spending can help the economy. In the first few years after the 2008 financial crisis, for example, unemployment was very high, and the Federal Reserve — normally our first line of defense against recessions — had limited ability to act, because the interest rates it controls were already very close to zero. That was a time for serious pump-priming; unfortunately, we never got enough of it, thanks to scorched-earth Republican opposition.

Now, however, unemployment is near historic lows; quit rates, which show how confident workers are in their ability to find new jobs, are back to pre-crisis levels: wage rates are finally rising; and the Fed has begun raising interest rates.

America may not be all the way back to full employment — there’s a lively debate among economists over that issue. But the economic engine no longer needs a fiscal jump-start. This is exactly the wrong time to be talking about the desirability of bigger budget deficits.

True, it would make sense to borrow to finance public investment. We desperately need to expand and repair our roads, bridges, water systems, and more. Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply: Long-term bonds protected from inflation are paying only about 0.5 percent interest. So deficit spending on infrastructure would be defensible.

But that’s not what Trump is talking about. He’s calling for exploding the deficit so he can cut taxes on the wealthy. And that makes no economic sense at all.

Then again, he may not understand his own proposals; he may be living in an economic and political fantasy world. If so, he’s not alone. Which brings me to my third point: Trump’s fiscal delusions are arguably no worse than those of many, perhaps most professional observers of the Washington political scene.

If you’re a heavy news consumer, think about how many articles you’ve seen in the past few weeks with headlines along the lines of “Trump’s budget may create conflict with G.O.P. fiscal conservatives.” The premise of all such articles is that there is a powerful faction among Republican members of Congress who worry deeply about budget deficits and will oppose proposals that create lots of red ink.

But there is no such faction, and never was.

There were and are poseurs like Paul Ryan, who claim to be big deficit hawks. But there’s a simple way to test such people’s sincerity: when they propose sacrifices in the name of fiscal responsibility, do those sacrifices ever involve their own political priorities? And they never do. That is, when you see a politician claim that deficit concerns require that we slash Medicaid, privatize Medicare, and/or raise the retirement age — but somehow never require raising taxes on the wealthy, which in fact they propose to cut — you know that it’s just an act.

Yet somehow much of the news media keeps believing, or pretending to believe, that those imaginary deficit hawks are real, which is a delusion of truly Trumpian proportions.

So I’m worried. Trump may be not just ignorant but deeply out of it, and his economic proposals are terrible and irresponsible, but they may get implemented all the same.

But maybe I worry too much; maybe the only thing to fear is fear itself. Do you like that line? I just came up with it the other day.

Solo Blow

May 11, 2017

In “Trump Is Insulting Our Intelligence” Mr. Blow says this is not about partisanship, but patriotism.  Here he is:

I feel as if we are being conditioned to chaos by a “president” who abhors the stillness of stability. Every day we awake to a new outrage. We now exist in a rolling trauma — exhausting and unrelenting.

Yet even in that context, some things spike higher than others. Donald Trump’s firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, is one of those things. This should shock the whole of America out of its numbness.

This is outrageous and without precedent, unless of course we count (as many have) the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre in which “President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down,” as The New York Times put it.

But Cox was just a special prosecutor; Comey was head of the F.B.I.

If you have been even mildly conscious over the past 36 hours, there is little new that I can tell you about this case, but here is the wrap-up:

In his termination letter to Comey, dated May 9, Trump writes that he concurs with “the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

That judgment came in two letters, one from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and another from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, both dated May 9, the same day as the termination letter.

(Take a minute here to recall that it took Trump 18 days to fire the national security adviser Michael Flynn, after he was warned by then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he could be compromised by the Russians and susceptible to blackmail. Interesting, isn’t it?)

First of all, what on earth was Sessions doing sending a letter in the first place? He said in early March, “I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign,” after he himself was found to have lied about meeting with the Russian ambassador.

How exactly does a person who is a proven liar about his own dealings with the Russians — and who has recused himself from matters dealing with the Trump campaign — make a recommendation to a president whose associates are being investigated for their ties to Russia? And the recommendation is to fire the man leading those investigations?

The sheer brazenness of it all is stunning.

It is in Rosenstein’s letter where things cross over from the outrageous to the absurd. Rosenstein writes: “As you and I have discussed, however, I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”

I actually agree with this, but here’s the problem: The president’s own public comments contradict this statement. During the campaign, Trump effusively praised Comey’s outrageous handling of the Clinton email nonissue. Indeed, Comey’s botching of that investigation may well be one of the reasons Trump stumbled into the White House.

So to pretend now that Trump is outraged by Comey’s mistreatment of Clinton simply boggles the mind. It is not to be believed.

Truth be told, the incessant lying by this president and the elaborate apparatus he has built in the White House to bend reality to meet those lies means that nothing they say is to be believed anyway, but this is of a different nature. This says to America: I’m going to tell you a lie that is so outrageous that you will want to believe that some part of it is true, to preserve your faith in truth, democracy and mankind.

They are using our own human nature against us. We want to believe that people’s natural default is toward truth and good, because the alternative is untenable: Moral anarchy? Well, the alternative is upon us.

Indeed, a White House spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that Trump had considered firing Comey since January.

Then there is this little nugget from The New York Times:

“Days before he was fired, James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in resources for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, according to four congressional officials, including Senator Richard J. Durbin.”

That appeal was made to Rosenstein.

And then the day after Comey was fired, Trump met at the White House with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador, the same ambassador whom Sessions had lied about meeting and who apparently met with other people associated with the Trump campaign. Trump also met Wednesday with Henry Kissinger, who served as Nixon’s secretary of state.

It’s all just too much. We need an independent investigator. I don’t trust anything — anything! — coming out of this White House, and I don’t trust this feckless Congress to constrain Trump.

This is not about partisanship, but patriotism. We must protect this country from moral corrosion, at best, and actual destruction, at worst.

If this doesn’t stink to you, your nose is broken.

Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

May 8, 2017

In “Republican Death Wish” Mr. Blow says the health care bill poses a threat to many Americans and is a death wish from the politicians who passed it.  Only if people get their asses off the couch and vote in 2018, Charles.  Fingers crossed…  Mr. Cohen, in “Macron and the Revival of Europe,” says hold the Marseillaise! Time for the “Ode to Joy.”  Amen to that!  Prof. Krugman says that “Republicans Party Like It’s 1984” and are making policy by lying about everything.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The obscene spectacle of House Republicans gathering last week in the Rose Garden to celebrate the House’s passage of a bill that would likely strip insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans, while simultaneously serving as a massive tax break for the wealthy, had the callous feel of the well-heeled dancing on the poor’s graves.

Republicans had painted themselves into a corner. For seven years they had incessantly defamed the Affordable Care Act as nothing short of a dispatch from the devil. They told their constituents that they had a better plan, one that provided everything people liked about the A.C.A. and eliminated everything they didn’t.

As Donald Trump claimed in January, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He continued, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

That, like so much else coming from these folks’ mouths, was a lie..

The bill passed by the House eliminates popular features like guaranteed price protections for people with pre-existing conditions, by allowing states to apply for waivers to remove these protections. Instead of universal insurance coverage, regardless of whether one could “pay for it” as Trump promised, the bill would move in the opposite direction, pricing millions out of coverage.

The A.C.A. had made a basic societal deal: The young, healthy and rich would subsidize access to insurance for the older, sicker and poorer. But this demanded that the former gave a damn about the latter, that people genuinely believed that saving lives was more important than saving money, that we weren’t living some Darwinian Hunger Games of health care where health and wealth march in lockstep.

Once again, the party that is vehemently “pro-life” for “persons” in the womb demonstrates a staggering lack of empathy for those very same lives when they are in the world. What is the moral logic here? It is beyond me.

Let’s cut to the quick: Access to affordable health care keeps people alive and healthy and keeps families solvent. Take that away, and people get sick, run up enormous, crippling debt and in the worst cases, die. It is really that simple.

People may conveniently disassociate a vote cast in marbled halls from the body stretched out in a wooden box, but make no mistake: They are linked.

In House Speaker Paul Ryan’s feckless attempt to defend this moral abomination of a bill during his floor speech last week, he said, “Let’s give people more choices and more control over their care.”

But this so-called restoration of choice would be in practice, for many, a sentence to death.

Republicans like the Idaho congressman and House Freedom Caucus member Representative Raúl R. Labrador deny this most basic of truths. Labrador said last week at a town hall, “Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.” It was a stunning expression of idiocy.

According to a 2009 study conducted by Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, “nearly 45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance,” and “uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their privately insured counterparts.”

An analysis last month by the Center for American Progress estimates removing price protections for pre-existing conditions would mean that “individuals with even relatively mild pre-existing conditions would pay thousands of dollars above standard rates to obtain coverage.”

Republicans are likely to pay dearly for this outrage. Nate Silver expressed his thoughts in a piece headlined: “The Health Care Bill Could Be A Job-Killer For G.O.P. Incumbents,” pointing out that the Republican bill is even more unpopular than the Affordable Care Act was when it was being debated, and if Republicans face the same electoral backlash that Democrats faced, “it could put dozens of G.O.P.-held seats in play.” Silver acknowledges that there are “mitigating factors” that could soften the blow for Republicans, but conversely adds, “There’s even a chance that Republicans could suffer a bigger penalty than Democrats did.”

On Friday, The Cook Political Report changed its ratings in 20 districts “all reflecting enhanced opportunities for Democrats” and pointed out:

“House Republicans’ willingness to spend political capital on a proposal that garnered the support of just 17 percent of the public in a March Quinnipiac poll is consistent with past scenarios that have generated a midterm wave.”

Not only is the bill unpopular among voters, it’s also unpopular in the medical establishment. As The New York Times reported on Thursday: “It is a rare unifying moment. Hospitals, doctors, health insurers and some consumer groups, with few exceptions, are speaking with one voice and urging significant changes to the Republican health care legislation that passed the House on Thursday.”

Whatever eventually comes of the bill, the death threat it poses for many Americans may well be a death wish Republicans have just issued for their own careers. As House Democrats sang as their Republican colleagues made their self-immolating votes: “Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”

And now here’s Mr. Cohen:

It’s not just that Emmanuel Macron won and will become, at the age of 39, France’s youngest president. It’s not merely that he defeated, in Marine Le Pen, the forces of xenophobic nationalism exploited by President Donald Trump. It’s that he won with a bold stand for the much-maligned European Union, and so reaffirmed the European idea and Europe’s place in a world that needs its strength and values.

This, after Britain’s dismal decision last year to leave the European Union, and in the face of Trump’s woeful anti-European ignorance, was critical. Macron underlined his message by coming out to address his supporters in Paris accompanied by the European anthem, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” rather than the Marseillaise — a powerful gesture of openness.

A Le Pen-led lurch into a Europe of nationalism and racism has been averted. President Vladimir Putin of Russian backed Le Pen for a reason: He wants to break down European unity and sever the European bond with the United States. Instead, the center held and, with it, civilization.

A federalizing Europe is the foundation of European postwar stability and prosperity. It offers the best chance for young Europeans to fulfill their promise. It is Europeans’ “common destiny,” as Macron put it in his acceptance speech, standing before the French and European Union flags. To think otherwise is to forget history. No wonder Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, through her spokesman, immediately proclaimed a victory “for a strong and united Europe.”

That will require reform. Europe, complacent, has lost traction. Macron recognized this. He declared, “I want to re-weave the bond between citizens and Europe.” More transparency, more accountability and more creativity are required. No miracle ever marketed itself more miserably than the European Union.

Macron, who came from nowhere in the space of a year at the head of a new political movement, did not make facile promises or make up stories. He stood by refugees; he stood by Europe’s shared currency, the euro; and he was prepared to tell the French that they cannot turn their back on modernity and prosper.

Through rational argument he increased a lead over Le Pen that polls put at 20 percent after the first round two weeks ago to 30 percent, winning with 65 percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 35 percent. This, in the age of Trump’s fake news, fake claims, and overall fakeness, was an important demonstration that reason and coherence still matter in politics.

Now the hard part begins. For the first time in France, the far right took more than a third of the vote, a reflection of the anger in the country at lost jobs, failed immigrant integration and economic stagnation. Macron, who said he was aware of “the anger, the anxiety, the doubts” needs to address this social unease head-on by reviving a sense of possibility in France. Without change, Le Pen will continue to gain support.

Change is notoriously hard to fashion in France. It is a country fiercely attached to the “acquis,” or acquired rights, enshrined in its comprehensive welfare state. Many have tried. Many have failed.

It is especially hard without strong parliamentary backing, and Macron will need that. Parliamentary elections will be held next month. His En Marche! (Onward!) movement must organize fast to build on his victory. It has extraordinary momentum. The traditional political landscape of the Fifth Republic — the alternation of center-left Socialists and center-right Republicans — has been blown apart.

Perhaps this very feat, without parallel in recent European political history, and Macron’s status as a centrist independent give him unique latitude to persuade the French, at last, that they can — like the Germans and the Dutch and the Swedes and the Danes — preserve the essence of their welfare state while forging a more flexible labor market that gives hope to the young. With 25 percent of its youth unemployed, France undoes itself.

If France grows again, Europe will grow with it. This would constitute a powerful rebuke to the autocratic-nationalist school — Le Pen with her sham of a political makeover, the xenophobic buffoon Nigel Farage in Britain (friend of Trump), Putin in Moscow, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, and of course the American president himself, whose irresponsibility on the subject of America’s European allies has been appalling.

Macron’s is a victory for many things. He has demonstrated that France is not a country where racism and anti-European jingoism can win an election. He has reasserted the European idea and raised the possibility that France and Germany will conjure a revival of European idealism. He has rebuked the little Englanders who voted to take Britain out the Union (and made a tough negotiation on that exit inevitable).

Above all, through his intelligence and civility, his culture and his openness, Macron has erected a much-needed barrier to the crassness and incivility, the ignorance and the closed-mindedness that seeps from Trump’s Oval Office and threatens to corrupt the conduct of world affairs.

Vive la France! Vive l’Europe! Now more than ever.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There have been many bad laws in U.S. history. Some bills were poorly conceived; some were cruel and unjust; some were sold on false pretenses. Some were all of the above.

But has there ever been anything like Trumpcare, the health legislation Republicans rammed through the House last week? It’s a miserably designed law, full of unintended consequences. It’s a moral disaster, snatching health care from tens of millions mainly to give the very wealthy a near-trillion-dollar tax cut.

What really stands out, however, is the Orwell-level dishonesty of the whole effort. As far as I can tell, every word Republicans, from Trump on down, have said about their bill — about why they want to replace Obamacare, about what their replacement would do, and about how it would work — is a lie, including “a,” “and” and “the.”

And what does it say about the state of American politics that a majority of the representatives of one of our major political parties have gone along with this nightmarish process?

Before taking back the White House, Republicans attacked Obamacare for many things. For one thing, they claimed that it was rushed through without proper debate.

They also claimed that Americans were getting a raw deal. Deductibles were too high, they claimed; so were premiums. They promised to bring these costs down, to provide, as Donald Trump insisted he would, coverage that was “much less expensive and much better.”

And meanwhile, they promised to keep the things people liked about Obamacare (whether or not voters knew they were getting those good things because of Obamacare). Nobody would be thrown off Medicaid; nobody would be denied affordable coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

Then came the reality of Republican legislation. Obamacare was debated and analyzed for many months; Trumpcare was thrown together so fast it’s hard to believe any significant number of those voting for it even had time to read it. And it was, of course, pushed through the House without giving the Congressional Budget Office a chance to estimate its costs, its effects on coverage, or anything else.

Even without a proper analysis, however, it’s clear that Trumpcare breaks every promise Republicans ever made about health. Deductibles will rise, not fall, as insurers are set free to offer lower-quality coverage. Premiums may fall for a handful of young, healthy, affluent people, but will rise and in many cases soar for those who are older (because age spreads will rise), sicker (because protection against discrimination based on medical history will be taken away), and poorer (because subsidies will go down).

Many people with pre-existing conditions will find insurance either completely unavailable or totally out of their financial reach.

And Medicaid will be cut back, with the damage worsening over time.

The really important thing, however, is not just to realize that Republicans are breaking their promises, but to realize that they are doing so with intent. This isn’t one of those cases where people try to do what they said they would, but fall short in the execution. This is an act of deliberate betrayal: Everything about Trumpcare is specifically designed to do exactly the opposite of what Trump, Paul Ryan and other Republicans said it would.

Which raises two questions: Why are they doing this, and why do they think they can get away with it?

Part of the answer to the first question is, presumably, simple greed. Tens of millions would lose access to health coverage, but — according to independent estimates of an earlier version of Trumpcare — people with incomes over $1 million would save an average of more than $50,000 a year.

And there is a powerful faction within the G.O.P. for whom cutting taxes on the rich is more or less the only thing that matters.

And on a more subjective note, don’t you get the impression that Donald Trump gets some positive pleasure out of taking people who make the mistake of trusting him for a ride?

As for why they think they can get away with it: Well, isn’t recent history on their side? The general shape of what the G.O.P. would do to health care, for the white working class in particular, has long been obvious, yet many people who were sure to lose, bigly, voted Trump anyway.

Why shouldn’t Republicans believe they can convince those same voters that the terrible things that will happen if Trumpcare becomes law are somehow liberals’ fault?

And for that matter, how confident are you that mainstream media will resist the temptation of both-sides-ism, the urge to produce “balanced” reporting that blurs the awful reality of what Trumpcare will do if enacted?

In any case, let’s be clear: What just happened on health care shouldn’t be treated as just another case of cynical political deal making. This was a Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength moment. And it may be the shape of things to come.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 4, 2017

In “Senators Save the Empire” Mr. Blow says the Senate may be our rampart against Trump.  Mr. Kristof, in “From Prisoner to Modern-Day Harriet Tubman,” tells us about how a woman who was once trapped in a cycle of drugs, crime and incarceration now helps others start healthy lives on the outside.  Ms. Collins says there are “Way Too Many Trumps,” and that out of the blue, the president suddenly showed new sides of himself.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the movie “Gladiator,” the Roman emperor Commodus storms back to his palace after paying a visit to the senate. In the senate, he bemoaned his father’s time spent at study and was quickly chided about his inexperience as other senators laughed. He angrily laments to his sister:

“Who would deign to lecture me?”

His sister tries to impress upon him the importance of the senate, but Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is not moved. He continues:

“I will give the people a vision of Rome, and they will love me for it, and they’ll soon forget the tedious sermonizing of a few dry old men.”

Commodus realizes that the one thing standing between him and his authoritarian impulses is the senate, its rules and its traditions, and he is furious about its constraints on his power.

I have thought of this movie often since Donald Trump was elected, and this scene seems particularly relevant this week. The film is a work of fiction based on some historical figures, but it has some incredibly compelling parallels to what’s happening today in America.

First, Commodus was indeed a real person — cruel and slipping into insanity, self-indulgent and despised, impetuous and thinking he was greater than he was.

As historian Cassius Dio wrote, “This man was not naturally wicked, but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived. His great simplicity, however, together with his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature.”

Sound like someone we know?

There has been no shortage of pieces written that use lessons from the ancient world to explain our current predicament.

In May, Andrew Sullivan summoned the teachings of Plato in a fascinating piece for New York magazine about how tyrants rise in “late-stage democracy”:

He is usually of the elite but has a nature in tune with the time — given over to random pleasures and whims, feasting on plenty of food and sex, and reveling in the nonjudgment that is democracy’s civil religion. He makes his move by ‘taking over a particularly obedient mob’ and attacking his wealthy peers as corrupt. If not stopped quickly, his appetite for attacking the rich on behalf of the people swells further. He is a traitor to his class — and soon, his elite enemies, shorn of popular legitimacy, find a way to appease him or are forced to flee. Eventually, he stands alone, promising to cut through the paralysis of democratic incoherence. It’s as if he were offering the addled, distracted, and self-indulgent citizens a kind of relief from democracy’s endless choices and insecurities. He rides a backlash to excess — ‘too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery’ — and offers himself as the personified answer to the internal conflicts of the democratic mess. He pledges, above all, to take on the increasingly despised elites. And as the people thrill to him as a kind of solution, a democracy willingly, even impetuously, repeals itself.

Sound like someone we know?

My colleague Paul Krugman wrote in December about the fall of the Roman Empire under the headline “How Republics End,” explaining: “Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.”

But it is the film and not actual history that sprang to mind this week. In the same way that Commodus tussled with the senate in the film, Trump tussled with the U.S. Senate.

This week the filibuster rule in the Senate allowed the minority Democrats to truly flex their muscle, and the Senate approved a bipartisan budget deal that was a stunning rebuke of Trump’s agenda.

He was not pleased. As Carl Hulse wrote in The New York Times:

“Members of the House and Senate now have clear evidence they can successfully work together in certain cases and deliver a product they support even if it does not do all that the White House wants.”

Trump was unhappy. He began complaining about the filibuster rule, calling for its elimination or else threatening “a good ‘shutdown’” in September.

The Senate didn’t take this threat lightly. Hulse, again reporting for The Times, pointed out that Trump “single-handedly saved the Senate filibuster” by threatening it, as “Senators in both parties rushed on Tuesday to categorically embrace the filibuster and profess that it would remain untouched.”

And even if Republicans in the House of Representatives are able to squeak through their horrendous repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it is likely to die in the Senate.

The Senate may well be our rampart, as it is an institution that recognizes the severe threat Trump poses. It could be the Senate that saves America from this tyrant and his throngs of cheering supporters who have set this whole nightmare in motion.

One of the best lines in the film is delivered by one senator to another as he laments Commodus’s manipulation of the people:

“I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they’ll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they’ll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it’s the sand of the coliseum. He’ll bring them death — and they will love him for it.”

Sound like someone’s supporters we know?

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, writing from Los Angeles:

She was 4 years old when her aunt’s boyfriend began to abuse her sexually. Then at 14, she had a baby girl, the result of a gang rape.

Soon she fell under the control of a violent pimp and began cycling through jails, prisons, addiction and crime for more than 20 years.

Yet today, Susan Burton is a national treasure. She leads a nonprofit helping people escape poverty and start over after prison, she’s a powerful advocate for providing drug treatment and ending mass incarceration — and her life story is testimony to the human capacity for resilience and recovery.

America’s greatest failure in the 21st century may be that far too many children grow up in a twilight zone of poverty, chaos, violence, drugs and failing schools. We can’t afford to help them, we say, and then we spend billions of dollars building prisons to house them.

Burton, now 65, has co-written a stunning memoir that will be published next week, detailing how after overcoming narcotics she eventually founded a nonprofit, called A New Way of Life Re-entry Project, to help women leaving prison. In a preface of the book, Michelle Alexander, a civil rights advocate, describes Burton as a 21st-century Harriet Tubman, and there’s something to that.

The memoir is called “Becoming Ms. Burton,” and that’s the journey it describes. As a black girl growing up in a dysfunctional family in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Burton was repeatedly raped, and then her child was run over and killed by a policeman. She self-medicated with alcohol, cocaine and crack.

“After six prison commitments, at the end of those, I was more broken than when I went into the system,” she told me. “Each time I was released, I would say I’m going to get it together, but each time it was more daunting.”

Her cycles in prison ended only after she chanced into a drug treatment program in Santa Monica that mostly served a more affluent clientele. A 100-day stint there helped her turn her life around — a reminder that America would be far better off if we treated addiction as less a criminal justice issue than a public health crisis. That’s particularly true now that some 52,000 Americans die annually from drug overdoses, more than 10 times the number who died in the entire Iraq war.

Starting in 1998, Burton began to help other women leaving prison, providing them with shelter and coaching them on staying sober and finding jobs. The effort was an immediate success, and philanthropists took note.

When Theodore Forstmann asked her to make a list of what she needed, Burton initially wrote down “toilet paper.” A friend explained that Forstmann was a billionaire, and Burton upped the ante to request a van, and Forstmann came through.

Burton now has 28 staff members, including six lawyers. She runs five homes for 32 women who have left prison, and has been recognized as a CNN Hero — and she burns with a passion to help other women find an exit ramp as well.

“We keep a woman in prison for decade after decade at a cost of $60,000 a year, and then give them $200 when they hit the gates for release,” she said, shaking her head. “And, adios. People have to get their IDs, Social Security cards. They have to get clothing, housing, apply for benefits and services, and it’s impossible to do with 200 bucks.”

The upshot, she said, is that people re-offend — and then get locked up once more, at a huge expense.

Burton showed me the homes she has set up, and the women in them are a reminder of how difficult it can be to start over after years in prison. One woman, Unique, confided that she hears voices in her head shouting at her, and Burton asked her why she didn’t keep a doctor’s appointment. “I’m afraid to go out,” Unique explained, so Burton worked out an escort so that Unique could see the doctor and get her medicines.

“If we don’t help her with those voices, she’ll be right back in prison,” Burton said when we were outside. Another former prisoner proudly gave her full name: Mary Mitchell. Now 53, she had been behind bars for her entire adult life and has never had an official ID card. With Burton’s help she is getting one and looking for a job. But Mitchell has forgotten how to walk in a city.

“I was so scared,” she said. “I didn’t know how to cross a crosswalk.”

Burton told me that a trigger in her own downward spiral was the gang rape that resulted in her pregnancy; if she had received counseling, she thinks, she might have avoided unraveling.

Too often, we miss these chances to help wounded young people, and we invest only in jailing them.

So I’m celebrating Burton’s new book and amazing second career — but with a bittersweet feeling that there are so many other Susan Burtons out there who never get the help or drug treatment they need, and are still incarcerated in ways that diminish them and all of America.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Oh gosh, we’ve got another Trump.

This has been very difficult, people. Every day concerned citizens put together their critique of the president’s policies, and before nighttime he’s a completely different dude.

You remember the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who answers to both SNORE and SNORT, depending on his energy level at the moment. He mainly likes to repeal federal regulations — free mentally ill people to buy guns; don’t let a little clean water stand between coal owners and their yen to dump trash. Last week SNORT issued a tax reform plan that was classic G.O.P. in its extreme vagueness on how to pay for its multitude of cuts. (“Eliminate tax breaks for special interests.”)

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came Weirdly Liberal Trump (WELT). He mused about breaking up the big banks; special aide Ivanka plugged helping Syrian refugees. Liberal Trump even expressed interest in a gas tax hike to pay for infrastructure repairs.

“It’s something that I would certainly consider,” he told Bloomberg News. The idea of a Republican administration, bound at the hip to the energy industry, championing a gas tax hike is a little stunning. It would, of course, pay for a ton of construction jobs, repair crumbling roads and bridges and be great for the environment. But I guarantee you Mike Pence would never bring it up.

Perhaps we should rethink all that impeachment talk.

Lately Congress has been in an uproar over health care, and House Speaker Paul (My Life Is Ruined) Ryan is going crazy trying to placate both sides on the matter of insurance coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions. WELT wants to be the progressive hero. “Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be,’” Trump told CBS’s John Dickerson.

That was shortly before Trump went off the handle when Dickerson asked about his claims of being wiretapped by Barack Obama. “I don’t stand by anything,” Trump said, unnecessarily, before he tossed Dickerson out of the Oval Office for pressing him on the matter.

Viewers got to witness a transformation from the new liberal presidential version to the very familiar Nearly Unhinged Trump (NUT). Actually, this one often seems more along the line of Totally Unhinged, but then we’d have to call him TUT.

It’s generally pretty easy to tell which president is talking. NUT was the one who thought Andrew Jackson could have stopped the Civil War. So, for sure, was the Trump who expressed astonishment that being president was harder work than his previous jobs. (“I thought it would be easier.”)

NUT tends to reside in the world of Twitter. And sometimes he fights with his other versions. Weirdly Liberal Trump was very happy when Congress came up with a spending deal that guarantees the government will continue operating through the summer. (“This is what winning looks like!”) Nearly Unhinged hated hated hated it.

“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” twittered NUT. He had promised us he’d make history, but even his critics didn’t expect he’d do it by becoming the first American president to express a yearning for the government to come to a screeching halt.

The quick shift between Trumps is always a challenge to the minions in charge of interpreting him to the world. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is getting to be one of our very favorite explainers, said that the president was calling for a shutdown because he became “frustrated” when Democrats expressed pleasure at the resolution of the spending standoff. (“They went out to try and spike the football and make him look bad.”) In reality, Mulvaney insisted, the Democrats were hoping for a collapse in negotiations because they wanted “to make this president look like he did not know what he was doing.”

And the whole world mused: not a hard lift.

Neither the liberal nor the normal-Republican Trump is very good at interesting new ideas that might actually, in the real world, happen. Unhinged Trump is obviously the attention-getter, and a lot of the excitement comes from the fact that his proposals are often exactly the opposite of whatever he was championing last week.

He’s also unfettered by the restrictions in imagination that would come from previous knowledge of how government operates. It appears, for instance, that NUT was surprised by the discovery that it took 60 votes to pass most legislation in the Senate. This came out in a tweet expressing shock, shock, shock that 41 senators could force the majority into compromise. “Either elect more Republican senators in 2018 or change the rule now to 51 percent,” he recommended.

Senate Republicans dismissed the idea instantly. “We are not going to do that,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Most of them had spent much of the Obama administration happily thwarting a Democratic president’s agenda with that very rule. Perhaps some of them were already anticipating that by 2021, it would come in handy again.

Blow and Krugman

May 1, 2017

In “Trump’s Degradation of the Language” Mr. Blow says in Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter.  Prof. Krugman, in “On the Power of Being Awful,” says Trump supporters will never admit they were wrong.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the more pernicious and insidious effects of the Donald Trump regime may well be the damage he does to language itself.

Trumpian language is a thing unto itself: some manner of sophistry peppered with superlatives. It is a way of speech that defies the Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram. It is a jumble of incomplete thoughts stitched together with arrogance and ignorance.

America is suffering under the tyranny of gibberish spouted by the lord of his faithful 46 percent.

As researchers at Carnegie Mellon pointed out last spring, presidential candidates in general use “words and grammar typical of students in grades 6-8, though Donald Trump tends to lag behind the others.” Indeed, among the presidents in the university’s analysis, Trump’s vocabulary usage was the lowest and his grammatical usage was only better than one president: George W. Bush.

Trump’s employment of reduced rhetoric is not without precedent and is in fact a well-documented tool of history’s strongmen.

As New York Times C.E.O. Mark Thompson noted about one of Trump’s speeches in his 2016 book, “Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics?”: “The super-short sentences emphasize certainty and determination, build up layer upon layer, like bricks in a wall themselves, toward a conclusion and an emotional climax. It’s a style that students of rhetoric call parataxis. This is the way generals and dictators have always spoken to distinguish themselves from the caviling civilians they mean to sweep aside.”

Thompson also notes that “Trump’s appeal as a presidential candidate depends significantly on the belief that he is a truth-teller who will have nothing to do with the conventional language of politics,” warning that:

“We shouldn’t confuse anti-rhetorical ‘truth telling’ with actually telling the truth. One of the advantages of this positioning is that once listeners are convinced that you’re not trying to deceive them in the manner of a regular politician, they may switch off the critical faculties they usually apply to political speech and forgive you any amount of exaggeration, contradiction, or offensiveness. And if establishment rivals or the media criticize you, your supporters may dismiss that as spin.”

Here is the great danger: Many people expect a political lie to sound slick, to be delivered by intellectual elites spouting $5 words. A clumsy, folksy lie delivered by a shyster using broken English reads as truth.

It is an upside-down world in which easy lies sound more true than hard facts.

But this is what comes from a man who is more watcher than reader, a man more driven by the limelight than by literature.

In January, Vanity Fair attempted to answer the question: “Exactly How Much TV Does Donald Trump Watch in a Day?” They did so by producing this utterly frightening roundup:

“Early on in the campaign, Trump told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” that he gets military advice from TV pundits. He couldn’t get through a 50-minute Washington Post interview without repeatedly looking at the TV and commenting about what was on it. In November, during the transition, The Post noted that, based on his biography, ‘He watches enormous amounts of television all through the night.’ And just this week, a source told Politico that Trump’s aides are being forced to try and curb some of his ‘worst impulses’ — including TV-watching, apparently: ‘He gets bored and likes to watch TV … so it is important to minimize that.’”

A piece in The New York Times in the first week of Trump’s presidency noted: “Still, Mr. Trump, who does not read books, is able to end his evenings with plenty of television.”

Trump has the intellectual depth of a coat of paint.

At no time is this more devastatingly obvious than when he grants interviews to print reporters, when he is not protected by the comfort of a script and is not animated by the dazzling glare of television lights. In these moments, all he has is language, and his absolute ineptitude and possibly even lack of comprehension is enormously obvious.

In the last month, Trump has given interviews to print reporters at The Times, The Associated Press, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal. Read together, the transcripts paint a terrifying portrait of a man who is simultaneously unintelligible in his delivery, self-assured in his ignorance and consciously bathing in his narcissism.

In Trump world, facts don’t matter, truth doesn’t matter, language doesn’t matter. Passionate performance is the only ideal. A lie forcefully told and often repeated is better than truth — it is accepted as an act of faith, which is better than a point of fact.

This is one of the most heinous acts of this man: the mugging of the meaning, the disassembling of rhetoric until certainty is stripped away from truth like flesh from a carcass.

Degradation of the language is one of Trump’s most grievous sins.

Bigly.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The 100-day reviews are in, and they’re terrible. The health care faceplants just keep coming; the administration’s tax “plan” offers less detail than most supermarket receipts; Trump has wimped out on his promises to get aggressive on foreign trade. The gap between big boasts and tiny achievements has never been wider.

Yet there have, by my count, been seven thousand news articles — O.K., it’s a rough estimate — about how Trump supporters are standing by their man, are angry at those meanies in the news media, and would gladly vote for him all over again. What’s going on?

The answer, I’d suggest, lies buried in the details of the latest report on gross domestic product. No, really.

For the past few months, economists who track short-term developments have been noting a peculiar divergence between “soft” and “hard” data. Soft data are things like surveys of consumer and business confidence; hard data are things like actual retail sales. Normally these data tell similar stories (which is why the soft data are useful as a sort of early warning system for the coming hard data.) Since the 2016 election, however, the two kinds of data have diverged, with reported confidence surging — and, yes, a bump in stocks — but no real sign of a pickup in economic activity.

The funny thing about that confidence surge, however, was that it was very much along partisan lines — a sharp decline among Democrats, but a huge rise among Republicans. This raises the obvious question: Were those reporting a huge increase in optimism really feeling that much better about their economic prospects, or were they simply using the survey as an opportunity to affirm the rightness of their vote?

Well, if consumers really are feeling super-confident, they’re not acting on those feelings. The first-quarter G.D.P. report, showing growth slowing to a crawl, wasn’t as bad as it looks: Technical issues involving inventories and seasonal adjustment (you don’t want to know) mean that underlying growth was probably O.K., though not great. But consumer spending was definitely sluggish.

The evidence, in other words, suggests that when Trump voters say they’re highly confident, it’s more a declaration of their political identity than an indication of what they’re going to do, or even, maybe, what they really believe.

May I suggest that focus groups and polls of Trump voters are picking up something similar?

One basic principle I’ve learned in my years at The Times is that almost nobody ever admits being wrong about anything — and the wronger they were, the less willing they are to concede error. For example, when Bloomberg surveyed a group of economists who had predicted that Ben Bernanke’s policies would cause runaway inflation, they literally couldn’t find a single person willing to admit, after years of low inflation, having been mistaken.

Now think about what it means to have voted for Trump. The news media spent much of the campaign indulging in an orgy of false equivalence; nonetheless, most voters probably got the message that the political/media establishment considered Trump ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. So the Trump vote had a strong element of: “Ha! You elites think you’re so smart? We’ll show you!”

Now, sure enough, it turns out that Trump is ignorant and temperamentally unqualified to be president. But if you think his supporters will accept this reality any time soon, you must not know much about human nature. In a perverse way, Trump’s sheer awfulness offers him some political protection: His supporters aren’t ready, at least so far, to admit that they made that big a mistake.

Also, to be fair, so far Trumpism hasn’t had much effect on daily life. In fact, Trump’s biggest fails have involved what hasn’t happened, not what has. So it’s still fairly easy for those so inclined to dismiss the bad reports as media bias.

Sooner or later, however, this levee is going to break.

I chose that metaphor advisedly. I’m old enough to remember when George W. Bush was wildly popular — and while his numbers gradually deflated from their post 9/11 high, it was a slow process. What really pushed his former supporters to reconsider, as I perceived it — and this perception is borne out by polling — was the Katrina debacle, in which everyone could see the Bush administration’s callousness and incompetence playing out live on TV.

What will Trump’s Katrina moment look like? Will it be the collapse of health insurance due to administration sabotage? A recession this White House has no idea how to handle? A natural disaster or public health crisis? One way or another, it’s coming.

Oh, and one more note: By 2006, a majority of those polled claimed to have voted for John Kerry in 2004. It will be interesting, a couple of years from now, to see how many people say they voted for Donald Trump.

Blow and Krugman

April 24, 2017

In “Resiliance of the Resistance” Mr. Blow says not only is the movement against Trump still strong, but it appears to be getting stronger.  Prof. Krugman considers the “Zombies of Voodoo Economics” and says they’re still eating brains after all these years.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The resistance to the travesty of Donald Trump’s presidency is holding up just fine, thank you very much.

As we approach the 100th day of the Trump administration, a tremendous amount of attention and coverage will be devoted to analyzing its impact and efficacy. But I would also like to take time to celebrate the impact and efficacy of the resistance.

I must say that the issue of resilience was one that I worried and wondered about from the beginning: For far too many Americans in this digital age, stamina is rare, attention spans are short and the urge for instant gratification, or at least for expedient resolution, is enormous.

I worried that modern shortsightedness would prevent resisters from seeing the long game, that the exhaustion of constant outrage would numb them to unrelenting assault.

But, to my great delight, my worry was unfounded. Not only is the movement still strong, it appears to be getting stronger. People have found a salve for their sadness: exuberant agitation. Far from growing limp, the Trump resistance is stiffening and strengthening.

As John Cassidy put it this month in a progress report on the resistance in The New Yorker: “Indeed, what is striking is how many people Trump has mobilized who previously didn’t pay very much attention to what happens in Washington. He has politicized many formerly apolitical people; ultimately, this may be among his biggest achievements as president.”

These comments came specifically in reference to the throngs of resisters showing up at lawmakers’ town hall events, sometimes in record numbers. They are passionate, vocal and confrontational. They are not bowing down; they are holding their representatives accountable and giving a very visual reinforcement to the threat that defending Trump or supporting his agenda will be punished at the ballot box.

The Republican House Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Jason Chaffetz, who made a surprise announcement last week that he would not seek re-election in 2018, found this out firsthand. As Mother Jones put it:

“The once-brash congressional inquisitor has twisted himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he hasn’t been investigating President Trump, the most conflict-ridden commander-in-chief in modern U.S. history. And the 50-year-old congressman has experienced an unexpected level of outrage in his own deep red district.”

In February, constituents swarmed Chaffetz’s town hall in efforts to (what he called) “yell and scream.” At the time he put on a defiant face: “I thought it was intended to bully and intimidate. But, the last four elections in Utah in a row I’ve won the widest margin of anybody playing at this level.”

Well, that’s over.

Not only are people showing up to town halls, they are clogging their lawmakers’ phone lines, which is surprisingly important.

As Kathryn Schulz pointed out last month in The New Yorker: “There are a great many ways to petition the government, including with actual petitions, but, short of showing up in person, the one reputed to be the most effective is picking up the phone and calling your congressional representatives.”

Schulz went on to explain: “For mass protests, such as those that have been happening recently, phone calls are a better way of contacting lawmakers, not because they get taken more seriously but because they take up more time — thereby occupying staff, obstructing business as usual, and attracting media attention.”

Furthermore, young people are particularly unhappy with Trump and turning against him. A Gallup poll released last week found that the percentage of respondents age 18-34 who believed Trump keeps his promises fell a whopping 22 points in the two months from early February to early April, from 56 percent to just 34 percent.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, young people aged 18-29 also give Trump his highest disapproval rating (63 percent) of any age group.

But these young people aren’t just stewing and complaining. They’re taking action.

As Time magazine reported earlier this month: “For more than 15,000 students across the country, Wednesday marked the first day of Resistance School — a program where the educational focus is mobilizing against President Donald Trump’s administration.”

As the magazine explained, the “school” was organized by “a group of Harvard graduate students” and offers “lessons on mobilizing activists and sustaining long-term resistance.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: money. Wired magazine reported this month that the resistance is “weaponizing data” with the emergence of a new nonprofit, crowdsourcing fund-raising tool called Flippable. It was founded by “three former Hillary Clinton campaign staffers” and pinpoints “which districts it believes are the most competitive for Democrats (the most ‘flippable’)” and allows donors to target those districts.

Taken together, all signs are looking up for the movement. The Trump administration, from pillar to post, is an unmitigated disaster, lumbering forward and crushing American ideas and conventions as it does. Damage is being done, there is no doubt, but Americans are not taking it lying down. They are standing in opposition. They are feeling their power. They are energized, and I’m very much encouraged.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to many reports, Donald Trump is getting frantic as his administration nears the 100-day mark. It’s an arbitrary line in the sand, but one he himself touted in many pre-inauguration boasts. And it will be an occasion for numerous articles detailing how little of substance he has actually accomplished.

Yet many of these reports will, I suspect, miss half the story. It’s important to note just how little the tweeter-in-chief has managed to achieve; but we also need to focus on what, exactly, it is that he hasn’t achieved.

For Mr. Trump sold himself to voters as unorthodox as well as effective. He was going to be a different kind of president, a consummate deal-maker who would transcend the usual ideological divide. His supporters should therefore be dismayed, not just by his failure to actually close any deals, but by the fact that he evidently has no new ideas to offer, just the same old snake oil the right has been peddling for decades.

We saw that on Trumpcare, where the administration outsourced its policy to Paul Ryan, who produced exactly the kind of plan you might have expected: take insurance away from millions, make it worse for the rest, and use the money to cut taxes on the wealthy. Populism!

And now we’re seeing it on taxes. Mr. Trump has promised to unveil a “massive” tax cut plan next week. This announcement apparently came as a surprise to his own Treasury officials, who obviously don’t have a plan ready. Still, one thing is clear: Whatever the details, Trumptax will be a big exercise in fantasy economics.

How do we know this? Last week Stephen Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told a financial industry audience that “the plan will pay for itself with growth.” And we all know what that means.

Back in 1980 George H. W. Bush famously described supply-side economics — the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will conjure up an economic miracle, so much so that revenues will actually rise — as “voodoo economic policy.” Yet it soon became the official doctrine of the Republican Party, and still is. That shows an impressive level of commitment. But what makes this commitment even more impressive is that it’s a doctrine that has been tested again and again — and has failed every time.

Yes, the U.S. economy rebounded quickly from the slump of 1979-82. But was that the result of the Reagan tax cuts, or was it, as most economists think, the result of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve? Bill Clinton provided a clear test, by raising taxes on the rich. Republicans predicted disaster, but instead the economy boomed, creating more jobs than under Reagan.

Then George W. Bush cut taxes again, with the usual suspects predicting a “Bush boom”; what we actually got was lackluster growth followed by a severe financial crisis. Barack Obama reversed many of the Bush tax cuts and added new taxes to pay for Obamacare — and oversaw a far better jobs record, at least in the private sector, than his predecessor.

So history offers not a shred of support for faith in the pro-growth effects of tax cuts.

Oh, and let’s not forget recent experiences at the state level. Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, slashed taxes in what he called a “real live experiment” in conservative fiscal policy. But the growth he promised never came, while a fiscal crisis did. At the same time, Jerry Brown’s California raised taxes, leading to proclamations from the right that the state was committing “economic suicide”; in fact, the state has experienced impressive employment and economic growth.

In other words, supply-side economics is a classic example of a zombie doctrine: a view that should have been killed by the evidence long ago, but just keeps shambling along, eating politicians’ brains. Why, then, does it persist? Because it offers a rationale for lower taxes on the wealthy — and as Upton Sinclair noted long ago, it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

Still, Donald Trump was supposed to be different. Guess what: he isn’t.

To be fair, it’s not clear whether Mr. Trump really believes in right-wing economic orthodoxy. He may just be looking for something, anything, he can call a win — and it’s a lot easier to come up with a tax reform plan if you don’t try to make things add up, if you just assume that extra growth and the revenue it brings will materialize out of thin air.

We might also note that a man who insists that he won the popular vote he lost, who insists that crime is at a record high when it’s at a record low, doesn’t need a fancy doctrine to claim that his budget adds up when it doesn’t.

Still, the fact is that the Trump agenda so far is absolutely indistinguishable from what one might have expected from, say, Ted Cruz. It’s just voodoo with extra bad math. Was that what his supporters expected?

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 20, 2017

In “A Fake and a Fraud” Mr. Blow says Trump’s philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.  In “The North Korea-Trump Nightmare” Mr. Kristof says it’s scary to consider what a frustrated president could do.  Ms. Collins is “Paging the Trump Armada” and says it’s not easy to misplace a flotilla.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump’s mounting reversals, failures and betrayals make it increasingly clear that he is a fake and a fraud.

For many of us, this is affirmative reinforcement; for others, it is devastating revelation.

But it is those who believed — and cast supportive ballots — who should feel most cheated and also most contrite. You placed your faith in a phony. His promises are crashing to earth like a fleet of paper airplanes.

He oversold what he could deliver because he had no idea what would be required to deliver it, nor did he care. He told you what you wanted to hear so that he could get what he wanted to have. He played you for fools.

That wall will not be paid for by Mexico, if in fact it is ever built. If it is built, it will likely look nothing like what Trump said it would look like. His repeal and replace of Obamacare flopped. That failure endangers his ability to deliver on major tax reform and massive infrastructure spending. China is no longer in danger of being labeled a currency manipulator. The administration is now sending signals that ripping up the Iran nuclear deal isn’t a sure bet.

Trump has done a complete about-face on the Federal Reserve chairwoman, Janet Yellen, and when was the last time you heard him threaten to lock up Hillary Clinton?

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the positions he took for in-the-moment advantage that have been quickly converted into in-reality abandonment.

He isn’t cunningly unpredictable; he’s tragically unprepared and dangerously unprincipled.

No wonder then that a Gallup poll released Monday found:

“President Donald Trump’s image among Americans as someone who keeps his promises has faded in the first two months of his presidency, falling from 62 percent in February to 45 percent. The public is also less likely to see him as a ‘strong and decisive leader,’ as someone who ‘can bring about the changes this country needs’ or as ‘honest and trustworthy.’”

While the largest decline in the percentage of those who think Trump keeps his promises came among women, young people and Democrats, the number also dropped 11 percentage points among Republicans and nine percentage points among conservatives.

Even so, The Washington Post’s The Fix warned readers to beware “the myth of the disillusioned Trump voter,” citing a Pew Research Center poll released Monday “showing very little buyer’s remorse among Trump voters.”

As the newspaper pointed out: “The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better.”

This seems to me a fair point, but it requires us to have a better handle on the expectations for him in the first place. After all, the union has yet to crumble into ashes and his Twitter tirades have yet to push us into an impulse war.

Furthermore, the stubborn human resistance to admitting a mistake should never be underestimated. Admitting that Trump is failing, even when he is failing you and your family specifically, is an enormous pill to swallow. Acknowledging that your blindness, selfishness and fear compelled you to buy into a man who is selling you out may take more time.

But I think that time is coming, because Trump is an unabashed leech and an unrepentant liar.

Trump cares only about Trump, his brand and his image, his family and his fortune. Indeed, his personal philosophy as president might best be described as clan over country.

Instead of being a grenade-throwing iconoclast bent on blowing up the D.C. establishment and the big-money power structures, he has stocked his inner circle with billionaires and bankers, and he has bent to the establishment.

Trump sold himself as a populist only to line his own pockets. Trump built his entire reputation not as the champion of the common man, but by curating his image as a crude effigy of the cultural elite.

He accrued his wealth by selling hollow dreams of high society to people who wanted to flaunt their money or pretend that they had some.

Put another way, Trump’s brand is built on exclusivity, not inclusivity. It is about the separate, vaulted position of luxury, above and beyond the ability for it to be accessed by the common. It is all about the bourgeois and has absolutely nothing to do with the blue collar.

And yet somehow, it was the blue collar that bought his bill of goods. People saw uncouth and thought unconventional; they saw raffish and thought rebel.

They projected principle and commitment onto a person anathema to both. Now, we all have to pay a hefty toll as Trump’s legions cling to thinning hope.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof;

President Trump is scary in many ways, but perhaps the most frightening nightmare is of him blundering into a new Korean war.

It would begin because the present approach of leaning on China to pressure North Korea will likely fail. Trump will grow angry at public snickering at the emptiness of his threats.

At some point, U.S. intelligence will see a North Korean missile prepared for a test launch — and it may then be very tempting for a deeply frustrated rogue president to show his muscle. Foreign Affairs describes just such a scenario in an excellent new essay by Philip Gordon imagining how Trump might drift into war by accident:

“He could do nothing, but that would mean losing face and emboldening North Korea. Or he could destroy the test missile on its launchpad with a barrage of cruise missiles, blocking Pyongyang’s path to a nuclear deterrent, enforcing his red line, and sending a clear message to the rest of the world.”

Alas, no one has ever made money betting on North Korean restraint, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul, a metropolitan area of 25 million people.

The upshot of a war would be that North Korea’s regime would be destroyed, but the country has the world’s fourth-largest army (soldiers are drafted for up to 12 years) with 21,000 artillery pieces, many of them aimed at Seoul. It also has thousands of tons of chemical weapons, and missiles that can reach Tokyo.

Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, estimates that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia and now chairman of the Asia Group in Washington, warns, “I do not believe there is any plausible military action that does not bring with it a possibility of a catastrophic conflict.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis knows all this, and he and other grown-ups in the Trump administration would resist any call for a pre-emptive strike. Concern about the North Korean response is what prevented Richard Nixon from a military strike in 1969 when the North shot down a U.S. plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. And it’s what has prevented presidents since from striking North Korea as it has crossed one red line after another, from counterfeiting U.S. hundred-dollar bills to expanding its nuclear program.

Yet I’m worried because the existing policy inherited from Barack Obama is running out of time, because all U.S. and South Korean policies toward North Korea have pretty much failed over the years, and because Trump seems temperamentally inclined to fire missiles.

When Vice President Mike Pence says of North Korea, “The era of strategic patience is over,” he has a point: Patience has failed. North Korea is the strangest place I’ve visited, but it has made progress as a military threat: When I started covering North Korea in the 1980s, it had zero nuclear weapons. It now has about 20 and is steadily churning out more.

Worse, North Korea is expected in the next few years to develop the capacity to attach a nuclear warhead to an intercontinental missile that could devastate Los Angeles. U.S. “left of launch” cyberwarfare may slow North Korean efforts, but the threat still looms.

If a military strike is unthinkable, and so is doing nothing, what about Trump’s plan of nudging China to apply pressure to North Korea?

It’s worth trying, but I don’t think it’ll work, either. China’s relations with North Korea aren’t nearly as close as Americans think. One North Korean once introduced me to another by saying, “The Chinese government doesn’t like Kristof,” and then beaming, making clear this was a high compliment.

President Xi Jinping of China will probably amp up the pressure somewhat, and that’s useful — North Korean missiles are built using some Chinese parts — but few expect Kim Jong-un to give up his nukes. In the 1990s, North Korea continued with its nuclear program even as a famine claimed the lives of perhaps 10 percent of the population, and it’s hard to see more modest sanctions succeeding now.

“North Korea will never, ever give up its nuclear weapons,” says Jieun Baek, author of a fascinating recent book, “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution.” Sanctions will squeeze the regime, she says, but not deter it. Instead, she urges greater measures to undermine the regime’s legitimacy at home by smuggling in information about it and the world (as some activists are already doing).

The only option left, I think, is to apply relentless pressure together with China, while pushing for a deal in which North Korea would verifiably freeze its nuclear and missile programs without actually giving up its nukes, in exchange for sanctions relief. This is a lousy option, possibly unattainable, and it isn’t a solution so much as a postponement of one. But all the alternatives are worse.

And if Trump tries to accelerate the process with a pre-emptive military strike? Then Heaven help us.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Let’s consider the case of the wrong-way warships.

Last week, North Korea was planning a big celebration in honor of its founder’s birthday. For North Koreans, holiday fun is short on barbecues and high on weaponry. The big parade in Pyongyang featured monster canisters that theoretically contained intercontinental ballistic missiles. It’s possible they were actually empty and that right now, North Korea only has bragging rights in the big-container race.

But its intentions were definitely bad, and the United States was worried there might be a missile launch or an underground nuclear test.

What should Donald Trump do? “We’re sending an armada,” said the president. Possible confrontation? As a concerned citizen, you had to be very worried. North Korea is, in every way, a special and dangerous case. It has a leader who is narcissistic to the point of psychosis, with a celebrity fixation and a very strange haircut.

O.K., maybe not entirely unique.

Trump was talking about bringing in four warships, one of them an aircraft carrier. Was this going to mean real shooting? His critics back home had to decide whether to protest, wave the flag in support or simply stock the fallout shelter. (This would be the fallout shelter you repurposed a couple decades ago as a wine cellar, but lately you’ve been thinking it can work both ways.)

Everybody was talking about the dangers. If North Korea sent up a missile, would the U.S. retaliate? Then what would happen to South Korea and Japan? People debated all the variables. The only thing that did not come up was the possibility that the American flotilla was actually no place near the neighborhood.

Yet, as Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt reported in The Times, at the moment the president was announcing his armada, the warships in question were actually going in the opposite direction, en route to a destination 3,500 miles away, where they were to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy.

Whoops. The official response was that the administration was sending an armada eventually.

“We said that it was heading there. And it was heading there, it is heading there,” said press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday. Under this theory, the president could have responded to North Korea’s latest saber-rattling by announcing that he was going to China, since chances are he’ll get there someday. Sooner or later. Especially if the Chinese can come up with a gold coach like the queen of England’s.

Poor Sean Spicer. Every day a new official fantasy to defend. Tonight the president will go to bed and dream that he’s actually the true heir to the principality of Liechtenstein. Tomorrow Spicer will come into the pressroom on skis and announce we’re declaring war on Switzerland.

But about the missing warships. It’s possible Trump was bluffing, which certainly sounds like a bad idea. After all, if this administration has a strong card in foreign policy, it’s that the rest of the world thinks he’s so crazy he might do anything. It seems more likely that the administration just screwed up, and some people thought the warships had been rerouted when they really weren’t.

We’re really not asking for a lot, but can’t the president at least be clear about the direction our ships are headed? Concerned citizenry has already adapted to the idea that half the things Trump said during the campaign have now been retracted. NATO is great, the Chinese don’t manipulate their currency. And the Export-Import bank is, well .…

Pop Quiz: Which best describes your feelings about the president’s attitude toward the Export-Import Bank?

A) Happy when he denounced it during the campaign.

B) Glad when he said it was a good thing after all.

C) Worried when he nominated an Export-Import Bank head who seems to hate it.

D) I don’t care about the Export-Import Bank! What about all those bombs?

O.K., O.K. In the end, the North Koreans did test a missile but it exploded right after launch. It is possible this was due to a long-running American cybersabotage program. If so, Trump couldn’t have mentioned it as a matter of security. Otherwise he’d certainly have been out there expressing his gratitude to the Obama administration for having done so much work on it. Hehehehe.

When it comes to Trump and foreign affairs, the big problem is that you want to be fair, but you don’t want to encourage him. A lot of Americans liked the idea of responding to a chemical attack in Syria by bombing a Syrian air base. But if the president thought it was popular, wouldn’t he get carried away? It’s like praising a 4-year-old for coloring a picture, and the next thing you know he’s got his crayons out, heading for the white sofa.

What we want to do is take the crayons away and murmur: “Good boy. Now why don’t you go off and nominate some ambassadors for a change?”

And go find your boats.

Blow and Krugman

April 17, 2017

In “100 Days of Horror” Mr. Blow says access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by Trump.  Prof. Krugman asks “Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?” and addresses economic pain, beyond coal and manufacturing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

With Donald Trump’s 100th day in office fast approaching, White House staffers are reportedly trying desperately to “rebrand” the colossal failure of the first 100 days as some kind of success.

Trump’s legislative agenda has been stymied. The drip, drip, drip of negative news about connections between campaign associates and Russia — and Russia’s efforts to impact our election — continues unabated. He seems to have no real strategy for governance other than pouting and gloating. His advisers are at each other’s throats. And the public has soured on him to a historic degree.

His failures so far, I suppose, should bring resisters like me some modicum of joy, but I must confess that they don’t. Or, more precisely, if they do, that joy is outweighed by the rolling litany of daily horrors that Trump has inflicted.

The horrors are both consuming and exhausting. For me at this point they center on an erosion of equality. This by no means downplays Trump’s incessant lying, the outrage of him draining the Treasury for his personal junkets, or his disturbing turn toward war. But somewhat below the radar, or at least with less fanfare, our access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by a man who lied on the campaign trail promising to promote them.

As a candidate, Trump blasted Jeb Bush, who while answering a question about defunding Planned Parenthood suggested that the federal government had overfunded women’s health care.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump prattled to Mika Brzezinski: “The women’s health issue, which Jeb Bush so amazingly blew about four or five days ago when he said ‘no money going to women’s health issues’ or essentially that. With me, Mika, I would be the best for women, the best for women’s health issues.”

Well, last week that very same man quietly signed legislation “aimed at cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions,” according to The New York Times. As The Times explained, the bill would allow state and local governments to withhold “federal funding for family planning services related to contraception, sexually transmitted infections, fertility, pregnancy care, and breast and cervical cancer screening from qualified health providers — regardless of whether they also performed abortions.”

As a candidate, Trump claimed to be a better friend to the L.G.B.T. community than Hillary Clinton, tweeting of that community “I will fight for you,” and saying during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that transgender people should “use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate.”

As president, his administration rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that allowed them to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

As a candidate, Trump disparagingly chided black voters with the question, “What the hell do you have to lose?” and issued a “New Deal for Black America” in which he promised: “We will apply the law fairly, equally and without prejudice. There will be only one set of rules — not a two-tiered system of justice.”

As president, his Justice Department has dropped its objection to a racially discriminatory Texas voter ID law. Just last week Time reported: “A judge ruled for a second time Monday that Texas’ strict voter ID law was intentionally crafted to discriminate against minorities, which follows another court finding evidence of racial gerrymandering in how Republican lawmakers drew the state’s election maps.”

This Justice Department has also “rescinded a six-month-old Obama administration directive that sought to curtail the government’s use of private prisons,” as reported by NBC News, and “ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies, an examination that reflects President Trump’s emphasis on law and order and could lead to a retreat on consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide,” as The Times reported.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that consent decrees “can reduce morale of the police officers.”

Furthermore, The Washington Post reported last week that Sessions had appointed Steven H. Cook to be one of his top lieutenants, noting: “Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.”

The clock is being turned back. Vulnerable populations are under relentless attack by this administration. This is a war, and that is not hyperbole or exaggeration. While folks are hoping that some Russia-related revelation will emerge from the darkness to bring this administration to a calamitous conclusion, the administration is busy rebuilding and reinforcing the architecture of oppression in plain sight.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

President Trump is still promising to bring back coal jobs. But the underlying reasons for coal employment’s decline — automation, falling electricity demand, cheap natural gas, technological progress in wind and solar — won’t go away.

Meanwhile, last week the Treasury Department officially (and correctly) declined to name China as a currency manipulator, making nonsense of everything Mr. Trump has said about reviving manufacturing.

So will the Trump administration ever do anything substantive to bring back mining and manufacturing jobs? Probably not.

But let me ask a different question: Why does public discussion of job loss focus so intensely on mining and manufacturing, while virtually ignoring the big declines in some service sectors?

Over the weekend The Times Magazine published a photographic essay on the decline of traditional retailers in the face of internet competition. The pictures, contrasting “zombie malls” largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for online sellers, were striking. The economic reality is pretty striking too.

Consider what has happened to department stores. Even as Mr. Trump was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and there, Macy’s announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000 workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.

Overall, department stores employ a third fewer people now than they did in 2001. That’s half a million traditional jobs gone — about eighteen times as many jobs as were lost in coal mining over the same period.

And retailing isn’t the only service industry that has been hit hard by changing technology. Another prime example is newspaper publishing, where employment has declined by 270,000, almost two-thirds of the work force, since 2000.

So why aren’t promises to save service jobs as much a staple of political posturing as promises to save mining and manufacturing jobs?

One answer might be that mines and factories sometimes act as anchors of local economies, so that their closing can devastate a community in a way shutting a retail outlet won’t. And there’s something to that argument.

But it’s not the whole truth. Closing a factory is just one way to undermine a local community. Competition from superstores and shopping malls also devastated many small-city downtowns; now many small-town malls are failing too. And we shouldn’t minimize the extent to which the long decline of small newspapers has eroded the sense of local identity.

A different, less creditable reason mining and manufacturing have become political footballs, while services haven’t, involves the need for villains. Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.

By contrast, it’s really hard to blame either liberals or foreigners for, say, the decline of Sears. (The chain’s asset-stripping, Ayn Rand-loving owner is another story, but one that probably doesn’t resonate in the heartland.)

Finally, it’s hard to escape the sense that manufacturing and especially mining get special consideration because, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, their workers are a lot more likely to be male and significantly whiter than the work force as a whole.

Anyway, whatever the reasons that political narratives tend to privilege some jobs and some industries over others, it’s a tendency we should fight. Laid-off retail workers and local reporters are just as much victims of economic change as laid-off coal miners.

But, you ask, what can we do to stop service-sector job cuts? Not much — but that’s also true for mining and manufacturing, as working-class Trump voters will soon learn. In an ever-changing economy, jobs are always being lost: 75,000 Americans are fired or laid off every working day. And sometimes whole sectors go away as tastes or technology change.

While we can’t stop job losses from happening, however, we can limit the human damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong — which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to miners and industrial workers. Yes, their jobs matter. But all jobs matter. And while we can’t ensure that any particular job endures, we can and should ensure that a decent life endures even when a job doesn’t.

Blow and Krugman

April 10, 2017

In “War as Political Weapon” Mr. Blow says that on Syria, we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms.  Prof. Krugman, in “Publicity Stunts Aren’t Policy,” offers a hint: Winning news cycles is no substitute for the real thing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has turned his back on pretty much everything he has ever said about United States military involvement in Syria and launched nearly 60 missiles at an air base in the country.

Trump’s official statement claimed that the strikes were in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical weapons attack against his own people. But the statement also went further into the fiction of fear often touted to buttress humanitarian missions: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

This has echoes of the George W. Bush warning about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie that led us into a near decade-long war.

Not to be indelicate here, but atrocities happen in the world all the time (and have happened on an even larger scale before in Syria). Humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes the victims die quickly and are made visible by media for the world to see. Other times, they die in slow motion, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes banned weapons are used; sometimes conventional weapons; sometimes, neglect, isolation and starvation.

And the world in general, and America in particular, has a way of being wishy-washy about which atrocities deserve responses and which ones don’t. These decisions can be capricious at best and calculated camouflages for ulterior motives at worst.

Continue reading the main story

Indeed, the motivations for military action needn’t be singular at all, but are often multiple, tucked one inside the other like nesting dolls.

Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons. They can distract attention, quell acrimony, increase appetite for military spending and give a boost to sagging approval ratings.

This “rally-around-the-flag” (or “rally”) effect is well documented by pollsters.

As Gallup wrote in 2001 after the attack of 9/11: “In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86 percent, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H. W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings — the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89 percent (the highest ever) and 87 percent ratings, and Truman with 87 percent just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.”

It’s easy to sell the heroism of a humanitarian mission or the fear of terror or the two in tandem, as Trump attempted in this case.

The temptation to unleash America’s massive war machine is seductive and also addictive. Put that power in the hands of a man like Trump, who operates more on impulse and intuition than intellect, and the world should shiver.

The problem comes when the initial glow dims and darkness descends. We punch holes in some place on the other side of the world and the war hawks — many beholden to the military-industrial complex — squawk and parade about with chests swollen.

But, feeding the beast of war only amplifies its appetite. Market Watch reported last week, “It could cost about $60 million to replace the cruise missiles that the U.S. military rained on Syrian targets Thursday night,” but Fortune reported that shares of weapons manufacturers, as soon as they began trading Friday, were “collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value.”

War is a business, a lucrative one.

Americans, who rightly are appalled by the images of dead children, applaud. They feel proud to slap the hand of a villain without risking American bodies. But now American might is irrevocably engaged. Our thumb is on the scale, and our reputation on the line.

Often, action begets more action, as unintended consequences sprout like weeds.

In the most extreme cases, we take down a bad leader in some poor country. In theory, this helps the citizens of that country. But in the complex reality that we have had to keep learning over and over in recent history, it often creates a vacuum where one bad man can be replaced by even worse men.

We are then already in waist-deep. We have to make an impossible choice: stay and try to fix what we broke or abandon it and watch our nightmares multiply.

Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

This is why we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms of our politicians and pundits, some of whom hypocritically opposed the use of military force by President Obama following an even worse chemical attack in Syria in 2013.

As righteous as we may feel about punishing Assad, Syria is a hornet’s nest of forces hostile to America: Assad, Russia, and Iran on one flank and ISIS on another. You can’t afflict one faction without assisting the other. In this way, Syria is a nearly unwinnable state.

We’ve been down this road before. Just over the horizon is a hill: Steep and greased with political motives, military ambitions, American blood and squandered treasury.

Being weary here isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it’s a display of hard-won wisdom.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Does anyone still remember the Carrier deal? Back in December President-elect Donald Trump announced, triumphantly, that he had reached a deal with the air-conditioner manufacturer to keep 1,100 jobs in America rather than moving them to Mexico. And the media spent days celebrating the achievement.

Actually, the number of jobs involved was more like 700, but who’s counting? Around 75,000 U.S. workers are laid off or fired every working day, so a few hundred here or there hardly matter for the overall picture.

Whatever Mr. Trump did or didn’t achieve with Carrier, the real question was whether he would take steps to make a lasting difference.

So far, he hasn’t; there isn’t even the vague outline of a real Trumpist jobs policy. And corporations and investors seem to have decided that the Carrier deal was all show, no substance, that for all his protectionist rhetoric Mr. Trump is a paper tiger in practice. After pausing briefly, the ongoing move of manufacturing to Mexico has resumed, while the Mexican peso, whose value is a barometer of expected U.S. trade policy, has recovered almost all its post-November losses.

In other words, showy actions that win a news cycle or two are no substitute for actual, coherent policies. Indeed, their main lasting effect can be to squander a government’s credibility. Which brings us to last week’s missile strike on Syria.

The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches.

But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action. No doubt the Assad forces took some real losses, but there’s no reason to believe that a one-time action will have any effect on the course of Syria’s civil war.

In fact, if last week’s action was the end of the story, the eventual effect may well be to strengthen the Assad regime — Look, they stood up to a superpower! — and weaken American credibility. To achieve any lasting result, Mr. Trump would have to get involved on a sustained basis in Syria.

Doing what, you ask? Well, that’s the big question — and the lack of good answers to that question is the reason President Barack Obama decided not to start something nobody knew how to finish.

So what have we learned from the Syria attack and its aftermath?

No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.

Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.

What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Mr. Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.

So here’s a hint: Real leadership means devising and carrying out sustained policies that make the world a better place. Publicity stunts may generate a few days of favorable media coverage, but they end up making America weaker, not stronger, because they show the world that we have a government that can’t follow through.

And has anyone seen a sign, any sign, that Mr. Trump is ready to provide real leadership in that sense? I haven’t.