Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

Bobo. Just Bobo.

July 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

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

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

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

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

Bobo and Collins

July 15, 2017

Bobo has decided to ponder the “Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump” and tells us that it took generations to evolve to Donald Jr.’s lack of ethics.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Ms. Collins plaintively asks “Couldn’t We Just Trade Presidents?”  She says American citizens watching Trump’s visit to Paris must have wondered how we got the wrong guy.  “Economic Anxiety” and ohmygod her emails…  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich emigrated to the United States when he was 16, in 1885. He ventured west to seek his riches and finally settled in Seattle, where he opened a restaurant that, according to family historian Gwenda Blair, likely included a section for a bordello.

Gold fever hit the Pacific Northwest, and Grandfather Trump moved up to Bennett, British Columbia. It was a fast, raucous, money-grabbing atmosphere and Trump opened the Arctic Hotel, which had a bar, a restaurant and, according to an advertisement in the Dec. 9, 1899, edition of The Bennett Sun newspaper, “private boxes for ladies and parties.” Each box apparently came equipped with a bed and a scale to weigh the gold dust that was used to pay for the services offered in it.

Friedrich returned to Germany, married and was sent back to the U.S. by German authorities (he hadn’t fulfilled his military service requirement) and amassed a modest fortune.

Frederick, Donald’s father, began building middle-class housing. Profiles describe an intense, success-obsessed man who worked seven days a week and encouraged those around him to be killers in their field. “He didn’t like wimps,” his nephew told Philip Weiss of The Times. “He thought competition made you sharper.”

He cared deeply about appearances. “Freddy was always very neat, a Beau Brummell,” Sam LeFrak told Weiss. “He had a mustache, and that mustache was always right, perfect.” He was also remorseless. In an interview with Michael D’Antonio, Donald Trump described his father as “very tough” and “very difficult” and someone who “would never let anything go.”

Biographies describe a man intent on making his fortune and not afraid of skating near the edge to do so. At one point, according to Politico, federal investigators found that Frederick used various accounting measures to collect an extra $15 million in rent (in today’s dollars) from a government housing program, on top of paying himself a large “architect’s fee.” He was hauled before investigating committees on at least two occasions, apparently was arrested at a K.K.K. rally in Queens (though it’s not clear he was a member), got involved in a slush fund scandal with Robert Wagner and faced discrimination allegations.

I repeat this history because I don’t think moral obliviousness is built in a day. It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a person’s mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing; to take the normal human yearning to be good and replace it with a single-minded desire for material conquest; to take the normal human instinct for kindness and replace it with a law-of-the-jungle mentality.

It took a few generations of the House of Trump, in other words, to produce Donald Jr.

The Donald Trump Jr. we see through the Russia scandal story is not malevolent: He seems to be simply oblivious to the idea that ethical concerns could possibly play a role in everyday life. When the Russian government offer came across his email, there doesn’t seem to have been a flicker of concern. Instead, he replied with that tone of simple bro glee that we remember from other scandals.

“Can you smell money?!?!?!?!” Jack Abramoff emailed a co-conspirator during his lobbying and casino fraud shenanigans. That’s the same tone as Don Jr.’s “I love it” when offered a chance to conspire with a hostile power. A person capable of this instant joy and enthusiasm isn’t overcoming any internal ethical hurdles. It’s just a greedy boy grabbing sweets.

Once the scandal broke you would think Don Jr. would have some awareness that there were ethical stakes involved. You’d think there would be some sense of embarrassment at having been caught lying so blatantly.

But in his interview with Sean Hannity he appeared incapable of even entertaining any moral consideration. “That’s what we do in business,” the younger Trump said. “If there’s information out there, you want it.” As William Saletan pointed out in Slate, Don Jr. doesn’t seem to possess the internal qualities necessary to consider the possibility that he could have done anything wrong.

That to me is the central takeaway of this week’s revelations. It’s not that the Russia scandal may bring down the administration. It’s that over the past few generations the Trump family has built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.

The Trumps have an ethic of loyalty to one another. “They can’t stand that we are extremely close and will ALWAYS support each other,” Eric Trump tweeted this week. But beyond that there is no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code. There is just naked capitalism.

Successful business people, like successful politicians, are very ambitious, but they generally have some complementary moral code that checks their greed and channels their drive. The House of Trump has sprayed an insecticide on any possible complementary code, and so they are continually trampling basic decency. Their scandals may not build to anything impeachable, but the scandals will never end.

But I’ll bet you voted for him, Bobo…  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“The modern Republican party’s great-grandfathers produced Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, two Presidents who fought for human decency, adored the common good and spoke truth to ugly moneyed power.

That same party then got hooked on 0.1% cash and millionaire public policy camouflaged by the smokescreens of religious fundamentalism, white supremacy, patriotism and Guns R Us anarchy.

This political party produced Ronald Reagan in 1980, a B-movie actor great at reading his script who introduced tax-cut dementia to America, demonized government, eliminated the Fairness Doctrine, and tripled the national debt by implementing the intellectual, moral and economic bankruptcy of right-wing tax cuts while eviscerating the safety net, good government and balanced budgets.

America has yet to recover from this immoral charlatan and right-wing stage actor.

Ever since the Reign of Reckless Reagan, the ethically dead Republican Party has pressed down hard on the ‘no new tax’ and ‘government is the problem’ accelerators and destroyed the common good while gilding the rich in tax cuts, free-market nihilism, and a refusal to engage in honest debate.

I repeat this history because I don’t think Republican moral bankruptcy was built in a day; it took 35 years of mindless Reaganism to produce the morally bankrupt Donald Trump and bankrupt Republican Congress.

It took a generation of Republican hacks to produce the Russian-Republican Party, but they finally succeeded.

Congratulations.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Why can’t Emmanuel Macron be our president?

American citizens watching Donald Trump’s visit to Paris must have wondered how we got the wrong guy. Macron seemed so smart, so charming. The fact that he didn’t father any children would not normally be a big selling point, but right now we are yearning for a president with no offspring.

Speaking of which, the Paris journey was dogged by questions about that meeting Donald Trump Jr. took during the presidential campaign. The one at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who was advertised as the bearer of “information that would incriminate Hillary.”

Every day the meeting guest list grows larger. First Son-in-Law Jared Kushner was there. Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager, was there. Rob Goldstone, the British P.R. guy who likes to post pictures of himself in funny hats was there — representing a Russian pop singer whose dad is besties with Vladimir Putin.

Latest addition: Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet military officer who’s currently a lobbyist in Washington. Akhmetshin is rather well known in our nation’s capital, where he was recently mentioned by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter complaining about people who register as lobbyists when they really ought to be registering as foreign agents.

And Akhmetshin might have brought somebody else along. Possibly an interpreter. Or something. This information came from Donald Trump Jr.’s lawyer, who is not to be confused with Jared Kushner’s lawyer or President Trump’s lawyer.

Pop Quiz: Who else do you think might have been present for that Trump Tower meeting?

A) Ivanka

B) Tiffany

C) Ryan Seacrest

D) Boris and Natasha

Donald Trump was not at the meeting. Didn’t even know about it. Until later. Even then only barely. Lately, when he’s defending his son, Trump has taken to using terms that suggest Junior was accused of cheating on a Boy Scout swim test. Talking with reporters on his flight to Paris, Trump called his eldest “a good boy. He’s a good kid.” This was, as many people observed, while he was on his way to a meeting with the president of France, who is, at 39, exactly the same age as Donald Trump Jr.

On that plane ride, the president also took a question about whether he was really serious about building a Mexican wall with solar panels on top. The answer is, totally. Also, the wall is going to be transparent.

You heard me. This administration is very committed to transparency in everything from releasing Junior’s emails 10 minutes before The New York Times was going to publish them to the border barrier.

“You have to be able to see through it,” the president of the United States explained, because otherwise “when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff. It’s over.”

Once he was back on the ground, Trump had a great time in Paris. Macron pulled out all the stops. Dinner at the Eiffel Tower. Big parade with lots of guns and airplanes. Although the French were celebrating Bastille Day, they added in the 100th anniversary of American troops’ entry into World War I. So you got the impression everything was really all about Trump, which is the best way to our president’s heart.

Trump was so touched he grabbed Macron in a handshake that evolved through so many expressions of affection it could have been featured on a dating site. He also attempted to compliment Macron’s glamorous 64-year-old wife by saying, “You’re in such good shape.”

We should note here that Melania Trump did fine. The Parisian press praised her wardrobe. Unlike her husband, she didn’t say anything weird. Nobody accused her of having sinister meetings with Russians. Give the woman some credit.

Macron was such a successful host that Trump seemed to develop second thoughts on the global warming thing. “And yeah, I mean, something could happen with respect to the Paris Accord. … And if it happens, that’ll be wonderful. …” Trump also took back his previous blasts at Paris, a city he’d claimed wasn’t safe because of the terrorists they’d let come in.

“You know what, it’s going to be just fine, because you have a great president,” he said. The sun rises and sets, and then a new reality is born.

The matter of Junior and the Russian meeting did come up during a brief press conference Trump and Macron held. (Trump, who was supposed to call on two American journalists, called on one American and one Chinese TV reporter.) “I will not interfere in U.S. domestic policy,” said Macron. Trump, who liked that answer a lot, said his son was “a great young man” who did something “a lot of people would do.”

It’s beginning to sound like a lot of people did do it. Of course, they were all either Russians and their associates or top members of the Trump inner circle. If only they’d met in a transparent room.

Oh, Christ, it’s Bobo again…

July 11, 2017

Today Bobo has decided to wail about “How We Are Ruining America.”  He moans that college-educated Americans have become devastatingly good at making sure children of other classes can’t join their ranks.  There’s a particularly rancid paragraph about taking “a friend” of his to a “gourmet sandwich shop.”  If that encounter is anywhere close to being based in reality I’ll eat my shoe.  Without salt.  Here’s his POS:

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.

Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.

I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.

For the love of all that’s holy…  Moral Hazard, will you please bite your master?

Brooks and Krugman

July 7, 2017

Bobo is taking time away from considering the catastrophe that is his Republican party to ponder “The Golden Age of Bailing.”  He sinks to his fainting couch and moans that flaking out on commitments has become so easy.  “DH” from Miami-Dade Florida will have a thought or two about this.  Prof. Krugman, in “Attack of the Republican Decepticons,” says the G.O.P.’s health care strategy is built entirely on dishonest claims and misrepresentations.  Here’s Bobo’s cri de coeur:

It’s clear we’re living in a golden age of bailing. All across America people are deciding on Monday that it would be really fantastic to go grab a drink with X on Thursday. But then when Thursday actually rolls around they realize it would actually be more fantastic to go home, flop on the bed and watch Carpool Karaoke videos. So they send the bailing text or email: “So sorry! I’m gonna have to flake on drinks tonight. Overwhelmed. My grandmother just got bubonic plague.…”

Bailing is one of the defining acts of the current moment because it stands at the nexus of so many larger trends: the ambiguity of modern social relationships, the fraying of commitments, what my friend Hayley Darden calls the ethic of flexibility ushered in by smartphone apps — not to mention the decline of civilization, the collapse of morality and the ruination of all we hold dear.

Bailing begins with a certain psychological malady, with a person who has an ephemeral enthusiasm for other people but a limited self-knowledge about his or her own future desires. In the abstract, the offer to meet up with an interesting person seems great, or at least marginally interesting. The people pleaser wants to make everybody happy so says yes to every invitation, with the unconscious knowledge that he can back out later.

The moment of cold reality doesn’t hit until you look at your calendar and find that you have five different commitments at 4 p.m. next Tuesday and not a free evening until 2021. A fog of anxiety descends, good intentions are dashed and the bailer starts bailing.

Technology makes it all so easy. You just pull out your phone and bailing on a rendezvous is as easy as canceling an Uber driver.

There are different categories of bailing. There is canceling on friends. This seems to follow a bail curve pattern. People feel free to bail on close friends, because they will understand, and on distant friends, because they don’t matter so much, but they are less inclined to bail on medium-tier or fragile friends.

Then there is professional bailing. This tends to have a hierarchical structure. A high-status person will frequently bail on a lower-status colleague, but if an intern bails on a senior executive, it is a sign of serious disrespect.

Finally, there’s the networker flake. In the information age, the highly ambitious are masters of acquaintanceship — making a zillion useful contacts, understanding the strength of weak ties and bailing on a networking prospect with a killer-eyed coldness when a better offer comes along.

I’ve been reading the online discussions to understand the ethics and etiquette of bailing. I’m struck by how many people are quick to bail and view it as an unproblematic act.

They argue that we all have a right to control our own time and achieve mastery over our own life. Bailees have a duty to understand that sometimes other people are just too frazzled to follow through on their promises.

And it’s true that sometimes bailing doesn’t hurt. I’m delighted half the time when people bail on me. They’ve just given me an unexpected block of free time.

But we should probably make bailing harder. Technology wants to make everything smooth, but friendship is about being adhesive. As technology pushes us toward efficiency, we should probably introduce social rules that create friction.

We could, for example, create three moral hurdles every bail must meet.

First, is it for a good reason (your kids unexpectedly need you, a new kidney became available for your transplant) or is it for a bad reason (you’re tired, you want to be alone)?

Second, did you bail well (sending an honest text, offering another date to get together) or did you bail selfishly (ghosting, talking about how busy your life is, as if you were the only person who matters)?

Third, did you really think about the impact on the other person? (I’ve learned it’s almost always a mistake to bail on somebody’s life event — wedding, birthday party, funeral — on the grounds that your absence won’t be noticed.)

My own sin is that I have a genius for sloppily double booking myself and forgetting to write stuff down on the calendar. I bail when crushed by work.

I could probably use some social norms that punished the bail, and thereby encouraged me to be discriminating about making commitments in the first place, intentional about how I spend my time and wary of overpromising and underdelivering.

There was a time, not long ago, when a social commitment was not regarded as a disposable Post-it note, when people took it as a matter of course that reliability is a core element of treating people well, that how you spend your time is how you spend your life, and that if you don’t flake on people who matter you have a chance to build deeper and better friendships and live in a better and more respectful way.

Of course, all that went away with the smartphone.

And now here’s what “DH” has to say:

“Mr. Brooks is right. There was a time, not long ago, when writing an op ed column was not regarded as a place for shallow observations, when an op ed writer took it as a matter of course that his column should engage with the serious matters of public life, and that if was done right a meaningful column would illuminate an important issue for thoughtful readers and perhaps even move the public issue towards a better outcome.

Of course, tenure in column writing can take that all away, apparently.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Does anyone remember the “reformicons”? A couple of years back there was much talk about a new generation of Republicans who would, it was claimed, move their party off its cruel and mindless agenda of tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor, bringing back the intellectual seriousness that supposedly used to characterize the conservative movement.

But the rise of the reformicons never happened. What we got instead was the (further) rise of the decepticons — not the evil robots from the movies, but conservatives who keep scaling new heights of dishonesty in their attempt to sell their reverse-Robin Hood agenda.

Consider, in particular, Republican leaders’ strategy on health care. At this point, everything they say involves either demonstrably dishonest claims about Obamacare or wild misrepresentations of their proposed replacement, which would — surprise — cut taxes for the rich while inflicting harsh punishment on the poor and working class, including millions of Trump supporters. In fact, there’s so much deception that I can’t cover it all. But here are a few low points.

Despite encountering some significant problems, the Affordable Care Act has, as promised, extended health insurance to millions of Americans who wouldn’t have had it otherwise, at a fairly modest cost. In states that have implemented the act as it was intended, expanding Medicaid, the percentage of nonelderly residents without insurance has fallen by more than half since 2010.

And these numbers translate into dramatic positive impacts on real lives. A few days ago the Indiana G.O.P. asked residents to share their “Obamacare horror stories”; what it got instead were thousands of testimonials from people whom the A.C.A. has saved from financial ruin or even death.

How do Republicans argue against this success? You can get a good overview by looking at the Twitter feed of Tom Price, President Trump’s secretary of health and human services — a feed that is, in its own way, almost as horrifying as that of the tweeter in chief. Price points repeatedly to two misleading numbers.

First, he points to the fact that fewer people than expected have signed up on the exchanges — Obamacare’s insurance marketplaces — and portrays this as a sign of dire failure. But a lot of this shortfall is the result of good news: Fewer employers than predicted chose to drop coverage and shift their workers onto exchange plans. So exchange enrollment has come in below forecast, but it mostly consists of people who wouldn’t otherwise have been insured — and as I said, there have been large gains in overall coverage.

Second, he points to the 28 million U.S. residents who remain uninsured as if this were some huge, unanticipated failure. But nobody expected Obamacare to cover everyone; indeed, the Congressional Budget Office always projected that more than 20 million people would, for various reasons, be left out. And you have to wonder how Price can look himself in the mirror after condemning the A.C.A. for missing some people when his own party’s plans would vastly increase the number of uninsured.

Which brings us to Republicans’ efforts to obscure the nature of their own plans.

The main story here is very simple: In order to free up money for tax cuts, G.O.P. plans would drastically cut Medicaid spending relative to current law, and they would also cut insurance subsidies, making private insurance unaffordable for many people not eligible for Medicaid.

Republicans could try to make a case for this policy shift; they could try to explain why tax cuts for a wealthy few are more important than health care for tens of millions. Instead, however, they’re engaging in shameless denial.

On one side, they claim that a cut is not a cut, because dollar spending on Medicaid would still rise over time. What about the need to spend more to keep up with the needs of an aging population? (Most Medicaid spending goes to the elderly or disabled.) La, la, la, we can’t hear you.

On the other side — even I was shocked by this one — senior Republicans like Paul Ryan dismiss declines in the number of people with coverage as no big deal, because they would represent voluntary choices not to buy insurance.

How is this supposed to apply to the 15 million people the C.B.O. predicts would lose Medicaid? Wouldn’t many people drop coverage, not as an exercise in personal freedom, but in response to what the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates would be an average 74 percent increase in after-tax premiums? Never mind.

O.K., so the selling of Trumpcare is deeply dishonest. But isn’t that what politics is always like? No. Political spin used to have its limits: Politicians who wanted to be taken seriously wouldn’t go around claiming that up is down and black is white.

Yet today’s Republicans hardly ever do anything else. It’s not just Donald Trump: The whole G.O.P. has become a post-truth party. And I see no sign that it will ever improve.

Oh, gawd, Bobo’s got a question…

July 4, 2017

[sigh]  Happy Independence Day.  Now for the bad news.  Bobo has decided to ask himself “What’s the Matter With Republicans?”  Oh, Bobo, your commenters keep trying to tell you if you’d only read, mark, and inwardly digest what they have to say.  Bobo says rural Republicans often see life and politics through an ethos formed in frontier life.  Bobo is, as usual, so full of shit that his eyes are brown, and “gemli” from Boston will have words to say.  But here’s Bobo:

Over the past two months the Trump administration and the Republicans in Congress have proposed a budget and two health care plans that would take benefits away from core Republican constituencies, especially working-class voters. And yet over this time Donald Trump’s approval rating has remained unchanged, at 40 percent. During this period the Republicans have successfully defended a series of congressional seats.

What’s going on? Why do working-class conservatives seem to vote so often against their own economic interests?

My stab at an answer would begin in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many Trump supporters live in places that once were on the edge of the American frontier. Life on that frontier was fragile, perilous, lonely and remorseless. If a single slip could produce disaster, then discipline and self-reliance were essential. The basic pattern of life was an underlying condition of peril, warded off by an ethos of self-restraint, temperance, self-control and strictness of conscience.

Frontier towns sometimes went from boomtown to Bible Belt in a single leap. They started out lawless. People needed to impose codes of respectability to survive. Frontier religions were often ascetic, banning drinking, card-playing and dancing. And yet there was always a whiff of extreme disorder — drunkenness, violence and fraud — threatening from down below.

Today these places are no longer frontier towns, but many of them still exist on the same knife’s edge between traditionalist order and extreme dissolution.

For example, I have a friend who is an avid Trump admirer. He supports himself as a part-time bartender and a part-time home contractor, and by doing various odd jobs on the side. A good chunk of his income is off the books. He has built up a decent savings account, but he has done it on his own, hustling, scrapping his way, without any long-term security. His income can vary sharply from week to week. He doesn’t have much trust in the institutions around him. He has worked on government construction projects but sees himself, rightly, as a small-business man.

This isn’t too different from the hard, independent life on the frontier. Many people in these places tend to see their communities the way foreign policy realists see the world: as an unvarnished struggle for resources — as a tough world, a no-illusions world, a world where conflict is built into the fabric of reality.

The virtues most admired in such places, then and now, are what Shirley Robin Letwin once called the vigorous virtues: “upright, self-sufficient, energetic, adventurous, independent minded, loyal to friends and robust against foes.”

The sins that can cause the most trouble are not the social sins — injustice, incivility, etc. They are the personal sins — laziness, self-indulgence, drinking, sleeping around.

Then as now, chaos is always washing up against the door. Very few people actually live up to the code of self-discipline that they preach. A single night of gambling or whatever can produce life-altering bad choices. Moreover, the forces of social disruption are visible on every street: the slackers taking advantage of the disability programs, the people popping out babies, the drug users, the spouse abusers.

Voters in these places could use some help. But these Americans, like most Americans, vote on the basis of their vision of what makes a great nation. These voters, like most voters, believe that the values of the people are the health of the nation.

In their view, government doesn’t reinforce the vigorous virtues. On the contrary, it undermines them — by fostering initiative-sucking dependency, by letting people get away with their mistakes so they can make more of them and by getting in the way of moral formation.

The only way you build up self-reliant virtues, in this view, is through struggle. Yet faraway government experts want to cushion people from the hardships that are the schools of self-reliance. Compassionate government threatens to turn people into snowflakes.

In her book “Strangers in Their Own Land,” the sociologist Arlie Hochschild quotes a woman from Louisiana complaining about the childproof lids on medicine and the mandatory seatbelt laws. “We let them throw lawn darts, smoked alongside them,” the woman says of her children. “And they survived. Now it’s like your kid needs a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads to go down the kiddy slide.”

Hochschild’s humble and important book is a meditation on why working-class conservatives vote against more government programs for themselves. She emphasizes that they perceive government as a corrupt arm used against the little guy. She argues that these voters may vote against their economic interests, but they vote for their emotional interests, for candidates who share their emotions about problems and groups.

I’d say they believe that big government support would provide short-term assistance, but that it would be a long-term poison to the values that are at the core of prosperity. You and I might disagree with that theory. But it’s a plausible theory. Anybody who wants to design policies to help the working class has to make sure they go along the grain of the vigorous virtues, not against them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bobo.  I grew up playing on cement paved playgrounds and survived.  Does that make me a daughter of the frontier?  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

“How many working-class “friends” can one wealthy, aloof, conservative intellectual TV celebrity and elite New York Times columnist have? Yet Mr. Brooks mentions one or two in every column. This may be a cry for help.

But assuming that he knows these people, they tend to exemplify modern-day dilemmas, the answers to which are always found in the 18th and 19th centuries. It seems that people have a thin, brittle patina of righteous moralizing that covers a bunch of saloon-town gun-toting delinquents, carousing, cheating the rubes and gambling with other people’s money.

That certainly describes today’s Republicans in the hallowed halls of Congress, as they try to pull the rug out from under the old and the sick just to increase their wealth by a hardly-noticeable jot, all the while thumping honest folk with a dusty, unopened frontier bible.

None of this imaginary moralizing and real-life greed will solve any of our ills. If people in the heartland think endemic problems born of low wages, economic abandonment of cities, poor education and biblically-based science denial can be solved by putting a slick, unlettered crook in the White House, then they deserve their fate.

But the rest of us don’t deserve it. If they can’t see that they’re being pandered to by liars and crooks, well, that’s too bad. We need to run these varmints out of Washington on a high-speed rail, which, sadly, we’ve never been able to get going. Gosh-darn Lousy infrastructure.”

Brooks, Krugman, and Collins

June 30, 2017

In “Tuners and Spinners” Bobo babbles that members of one social category are adventurous, while members of another are more intimate.  Prof. Krugman, in “Understanding Republican Cruelty,” says there are reasons the health insurance legislation is morally obscene.  Ms. Collins says “I’ve Overestimated Donald Trump,” and she has a question: Shouldn’t he have been in meetings instead of tweeting about Mika Brzezinski?

Here’s Bobo:

Cass Sunstein, the eminent Harvard law professor and writer, notes that some people are spinners and some people are tuners.

The spinner is the life of the party. The spinner is funny, socially adventurous and good at storytelling, even if he sometimes uses his wit to maintain distance from people. Spinners are great at hosting big parties.

They’re hungry for social experiences and filled with daring and creativity. Instagram and Twitter are built for these people. If you’re friends with a spinner you’ll have a bunch of fun things to do even if you don’t remember them a week later.

The tuner makes you feel known. The tuner is good at empathy and hungers for deep connection. The tuner may be bad at small talk, but in the middle of a deep conversation the tuner will ask those extra four or five questions, the way good listeners do.

If you’re at a down time in your life, the spinners may suddenly make themselves scarce, but the tuners will show up. The tuners may retreat at big parties, but they’re great one-on-one over coffee. If you’re with a person and he’s deepened your friendship by revealing a vulnerable part of himself, you’re with a tuner.

Now, of course, all social categories of this type are vast generalizations and really just a form of conversational game playing. But if you look around at your friends, or at the world’s celebrities, I do think you’ll find some people who seem to be good spinners (Amy Schumer, Jack Nicholson, Quentin Tarantino), some who seem to be tuners (Oprah, Jake Gyllenhaal, Adele) and a few lucky souls who are strong at both ends (I’m looking at you Stephen Colbert and Bill Clinton).

Spinning and tuning are different kinds of courage — the courage to be adventurous and the courage to be intimate. It seems to me that spinners and tuners each have their own kinds of happiness and sadness. Spinners love the whirl of a happy group activity and suffer from restlessness and a penchant for self-destruction. Tuners love connection, and with their emotional depth may be prone toward depression.

I even think writers and thinkers fall into these categories. Shakespeare, Einstein and Isaiah Berlin were spinners, playing, in almost a thrill-seeking manner, with a whirl of ideas. Dante, Proust and Toni Morrison fall into the tuner category.

A lot of the novels I read are narrated by tuners about spinners. That is to say, they are narrated by quiet empathetic characters about adventurous, vivacious characters. Novels like “The Great Gatsby,” “All the King’s Men,” “Brideshead Revisited” and “A Separate Peace” fall into this category.

Now if you are looking for friends, the spinners are great. But my questions for the class are: If you’re looking for a life partner, should you go for your same type or your opposite? Should you marry someone who meets your strengths or fills your needs?

My guess is that if you can’t find someone with both traits, marry a tuner, even if that gives your relationship a little extra drama.

The second question is: Can people change types over time? I’d say Oscar Wilde went from being a spinner to a tuner (though maybe he just got sadder as he was more oppressed). Others, of course, do not believe people change their basic emotional makeup, even over decades.

It should be said that both spinning and tuning are patterns of social interaction. They are patterns of being outer directed (now there’s a social category type with legs!).

Some people are inner directed. Their way of being in the world is based less on a pattern of interaction and more on a way of projecting what’s inside to the surrounding environment. Let’s call these people projectors.

I’d say a lot of heroes are projectors. Their primary attachment is to an ideal. They can go through life faithful to that ideal and carry on despite a blizzard of abuse or indifference. I’m thinking of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Aung San Suu Kyi.

On the other hand, there are some projectors whose primary attachment is to some psychosis, some emotional or narcissistic wound. They project outward from that. I add this distinction because every social typology has to have a slot for Donald Trump.

There’s one final social category I just learned about, from a talk I heard Sherry Turkle of M.I.T. give at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

She observed that some 4-year-olds wander on to the beach with their own shovel and bucket. They’re fine to play alone, but they’re welcoming if anybody wants to join them. They have a mixture of self-sufficiency and sociability. Turkle noticed that other kids are drawn to these kids, just as they recoil from the kid who doesn’t have a bucket and is needy for theirs.

So my lesson of the week is: Go into every social occasion with your own bucket. Be a spinner when life’s going good, a tuner when things go down, and have a great Fourth of July weekend.

Oh, gawd…  There he goes again.  “Gemli” from Boston had some thoughts about it:

“Yep, some people are spinners and some are tuners. And some people are a little bit country, and a little bit rock and roll. But if you spin the dial on your tuner, you can change your station in life. All people fall into two categories: those who put people into two categories, and those who don’t. I tend to fit into the category of people who can’t be put into a category.

Sorry. Ever since David Brooks stopped writing his indefensible screeds lauding Republicans and started getting into this social psychology thing, I don’t know how to respond. It was so much easier when he attacked the people who occupied Wall Street, or when he said that raising the minimum wage would hurt the poor. A person knew how to respond to that.

Conservative opinionators are supposed to make you mad, not confused. They’re not supposed offer marriage advice, although if you’re a tuner they really like the wedding of AM with FM. Two AMs or two FMs should never get together in their book. It makes them queasy to think about it, which is why they always carry a bucket.

I’m for tuner equality, personally.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The basics of Republican health legislation, which haven’t changed much in different iterations of Trumpcare, are easy to describe: Take health insurance away from tens of millions, make it much worse and far more expensive for millions more, and use the money thus saved to cut taxes on the wealthy.

Donald Trump may not get this — reporting by The Times and others, combined with his own tweets, suggests that he has no idea what’s in his party’s legislation. But everyone in Congress understands what it’s all about.

The puzzle — and it is a puzzle, even for those who have long since concluded that something is terribly wrong with the modern G.O.P. — is why the party is pushing this harsh, morally indefensible agenda.

Think about it. Losing health coverage is a nightmare, especially if you’re older, have health problems and/or lack the financial resources to cope if illness strikes. And since Americans with those characteristics are precisely the people this legislation effectively targets, tens of millions would soon find themselves living this nightmare.

Meanwhile, taxes that fall mainly on a tiny, wealthy minority would be reduced or eliminated. These cuts would be big in dollar terms, but because the rich are already so rich, the savings would make very little difference to their lives.

More than 40 percent of the Senate bill’s tax cuts would go to people with annual incomes over $1 million — but even these lucky few would see their after-tax income rise only by a barely noticeable 2 percent.

So it’s vast suffering — including, according to the best estimates, around 200,000 preventable deaths — imposed on many of our fellow citizens in order to give a handful of wealthy people what amounts to some extra pocket change. And the public hates the idea: Polling shows overwhelming popular opposition, even though many voters don’t realize just how cruel the bill really is. For example, only a minority of voters are aware of the plan to make savage cuts to Medicaid.

In fact, my guess is that the bill has low approval even among those who would get a significant tax cut. Warren Buffett has denounced the Senate bill as the “Relief for the Rich Act,” and he’s surely not the only billionaire who feels that way.

Which brings me back to my question: Why would anyone want to do this?

I won’t pretend to have a full answer, but I think there are two big drivers — actually, two big lies — behind Republican cruelty on health care and beyond.

First, the evils of the G.O.P. plan are the flip side of the virtues of Obamacare. Because Republicans spent almost the entire Obama administration railing against the imaginary horrors of the Affordable Care Act — death panels! — repealing Obamacare was bound to be their first priority.

Once the prospect of repeal became real, however, Republicans had to face the fact that Obamacare, far from being the failure they portrayed, has done what it was supposed to do: It used higher taxes on the rich to pay for a vast expansion of health coverage. Correspondingly, trying to reverse the A.C.A. means taking away health care from people who desperately need it in order to cut taxes on the rich.

So one way to understand this ugly health plan is that Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are.

Yet that’s surely not the whole story, because Obamacare isn’t the only social insurance program that does great good yet faces incessant right-wing attack. Food stamps, unemployment insurance, disability benefits all get the same treatment. Why?

As with Obamacare, this story began with a politically convenient lie — the pretense, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, that social safety net programs just reward lazy people who don’t want to work. And we all know which people in particular were supposed to be on the take.

Now, this was never true, and in an era of rising inequality and declining traditional industries, some of the biggest beneficiaries of these safety net programs are members of the Trump-supporting white working class. But the modern G.O.P. basically consists of career apparatchiks who live in an intellectual bubble, and those Reagan-era stereotypes still dominate their picture of struggling Americans.

Or to put it another way, Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe.

In this sense there’s nothing new about their health plan. What it does — punish the poor and working class, cut taxes on the rich — is what every major G.O.P. policy proposal does. The only difference is that this time it’s all out in the open.

So what will happen to this monstrous bill? I have no idea. Whether it passes or not, however, remember this moment. For this is what modern Republicans do; this is who they are.

And here’s Ms. Collins:

I have to confess I’ve overestimated Donald Trump.

Back in the day, he sent me a copy of a column he objected to, with some notes suggesting I was a “dog and a liar” with “the face of a pig.”

I’ve had many opportunities to make use of that story since Trump became a presidential candidate, so it’s all fine for me. However, I have to admit that it did not occur to me he’d keep doing that kind of stuff as president of the United States.

The latest story involves Trump taking umbrage at the MSNBC “Morning Joe” hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. So he took to Twitter, insulting them both and claiming that Brzezinski had come to Mar-a-Lago “bleeding badly from a face-lift.” Both she and Scarborough are plenty capable of taking care of themselves. But the country is, you know, sort of a different matter.

Every time one of these tweeting disasters occurs, it reminds us that the United States president has no more discernible self-control than a 10-year-old bully who works out his failure to pass third grade by tormenting the little kids on the playground.

The tweeting took place around 9 a.m. on a weekday and I believe that I speak for almost all Americans when I wonder whether he should have been in meetings instead.

The official White House position appears to be that Brzezinski deserved it since she had said mean things about the president on TV. Among Trump’s small band of pathetic defenders we found Dan Scavino Jr., who is in charge of White House social media, who claimed “#DumbAsARockMika and lover #JealousJoe are lost, confused & saddened since @POTUS @realDonaldTrump stopped returning their calls! Unhinged.”

The important messages here are A) the White House expert on social media thinks dragging this out is a good plan and B) the White House expert on social media used to be Trump’s golf caddy.

A lot of top Republican leaders have expressed their dismay about what was obviously a sexist insult, but that’s hardly sufficient. This is the same party, after all, that recently produced its Senate health care bill drafted by a committee of 13 men. A bill whose defenders have argued, in effect, that making maternity health coverage more expensive is not a problem because guys don’t get pregnant.

The Republicans’ many variations on “oh God” isn’t enough. The least they could do is hold a prayer vigil on the White House lawn.

It’s Bobo time!

June 27, 2017

Today Bobo ‘splains to us all just how “The G.O.P. Rejects Conservatism.”  He wrings his hands and moans that Republicans are so bankrupt that they refuse to use quality health care policy ideas put forward by conservative intellectuals, opting instead for tax cuts for the rich.  And I’m sure it’s not Bobo, it’s THOSE Republicans, over THERE.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a response, but before that “Chris Jillings” from Sudbury, Canada will supply a “shorter.”  Here’s Bobo, writing from Aspen:

There is a structural flaw in modern capitalism. Tremendous income gains are going to those in the top 20 percent, but prospects are diminishing for those in the middle and working classes. This gigantic trend widens inequality, exacerbates social segmentation, fuels distrust and led to Donald Trump.

Conservative intellectuals were slow to understanding the seriousness of this structural problem, but over the past few years they have begun to grapple with the consequences. Basically, many conservative intellectuals have come to terms with income redistribution.

Conservative income redistribution doesn’t look like liberal redistribution. Conservatives tend to like their redistribution done at the local level, and they like to use market-friendly mechanisms, like child tax credits, mobility vouchers and wage subsidies. But the intent is the same: to give those who are struggling more security and opportunity.

Conservative redistribution extends to health care. Over the past several years many plans have emerged from the various right-leaning thinking tanks that imagine consumer-driven health care that also has universal or near universal coverage.

These plans, from places like the American Enterprise Institute, use tax credits or pre-funded health savings accounts or some other method to give middle- and working-class people coverage, while reducing regulations and improving incentives throughout the system.

Republican politicians could have picked up one of these plans when they set out to repeal Obamacare. They could have created a better system that did not punish the poor. But there are two crucial differences between the conservative policy johnnies and Republican politicians.

First, conservative policy intellectuals tend to have accepted the fact that American society is coming apart and that measures need to be taken to assist the working class. Republican politicians show no awareness of this fact. Second, conservative writers and intellectuals have a vision for how they want American society to be in the 21st century. Republican politicians have a vision of how they want American government to be in the 21st century.

Republican politicians believe that government should tax people less. The Senate bill would eliminate the 3.8 percent tax on investment income for those making over $250,000. Republican politicians believe that open-ended entitlements should be cut. The Senate health care plan would throw 15 million people off Medicaid, according to the Congressional Budget Office. (This is the program that covers nearly 40 percent of America’s children.)

Is there a vision of society underlying those choices? Not really. Most political parties define their vision of the role of government around their vision of the sort of country they would like to create. The current Republican Party has iron, dogmatic rules about the role of government, but no vision about America.

Because Republicans have no governing vision, they can’t really replace the Obama vision with some alternative. They just accept the basic structure of Obamacare and cut it back some.

Because Republicans have no governing vision, they can’t argue for their plans. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price came to the Aspen Ideas Festival to make the case for the G.O.P. approach. It’s not that he had bad arguments; he had no arguments, no vision for the sort of health care system these bills would usher in. He filled his time by rising to a level of vapid generality that was utterly detached from the choices in the actual legislation.

Because Republicans have no national vision, they seem largely uninterested in the actual effects their legislation would have on the country at large. This Senate bill would be completely unworkable because anybody with half a brain would get insurance only when they got sick.

Worse, this bill takes all of the devastating trends afflicting the middle and working classes — all the instability, all the struggle and pain — and it makes them worse. As the C.B.O. indicated, the Senate plan would throw 22 million people off the insurance rolls. It would send them to private insurance plans that they could not afford to buy. Under the Senate bill, deductibles for poor families would be more than half of their annual income. The plans are so incompetently and cruelly designed that as the C.B.O. put it, “few low-income people would purchase any plan.”

This is not a conservative vision of American society. It’s a vision rendered cruel by its obliviousness. I have been trying to think about the underlying mentality that now governs the Republican political class. The best I can do is the atomistic mentality described by Alexis de Tocqueville long ago:

“They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands. Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

For what it’s worth, his phrase “conservative policy intellectuals” is to larf.  First let’s get “Chris Jillings” to give us his shorter:

“Shorter version of this column: “Paul Krugman has been right about the Republicans for the past 10 years.””

And now here’s what “gemli” from Boston has to say to Bobo:

“Conservatives are all about closed doors. That’s where they’re working to create this ruinous wealthcare proposal, and that’s how they’re treating millions of Americans: shutting them off from the benefits that result from living in a modern democracy.

This isn’t about capitalism and its structural flaws. It’s about an awakening of conservative Republicans to the wonders of pure, unadulterated greed. They’ve got theirs, and in the zero-sum game of U.S. economics, that means nobody else can benefit.

The poor, the old and the sick are not on their radar. They simply don’t matter, and that explains everything you need to know about the way they’re being treated.

Republicans used to at least make the effort to put on a show, and pretend their money-grubbing was based on some high-minded principle. Money would “trickle down” from on high, and the change falling from the billionaires pockets would be enough to sustain the also-rans.

Today, they just don’t care. And that’s what they’re replacing Obamacare with. It’s called Dontcare, and it’s coming to a town near you.”

Sigh. It’s Bobo again…

June 23, 2017

Oh, gawd.  Today Bobo has inflicted “Mis-Educating the Young” on us.  He takes to his fainting couch, clutching his pearls, and wails a question:  Why don’t schools prepare students for life?  And once again “gemli” from Boston will try to set him straight.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

A few months ago I had lunch with a former student named Lucy Fleming, one of the best writers I’ve taught. I asked her what she had learned in her first year out of college. She said she had been forced to think differently.

While in school, her thinking was station to station: take that test, apply to that college, aim for a degree. But in young adulthood, there are no more stations. Everything is open seas. Your main problems are not about the assignment right in front of you; they are about the horizon far away. What should you be steering toward? It requires an entirely different set of navigational skills.

This gets at one of the oddest phenomena of modern life. Childhood is more structured than it has ever been. But then the great engine of the meritocracy spits people out into a young adulthood that is less structured than it has ever been.

There used to be certain milestones that young adults were directed toward by age 27: leaving home, becoming financially independent, getting married, buying a house, having a child. But the information economy has scrambled those timetables. Current 20-somethings are much less likely to do any of those things by 30. They are less likely to be anchored in a political party, church or some other creedal community.

When I graduated from college there was a finite number of career ladders in front of me: teacher, lawyer, doctor, business. Now college graduates enter a world with four million footstools. There are many more places to perch (a start-up, an NGO, a coffee shop, a consultancy) but few of the footstools pay a sustaining wage, seem connected with the others or lead to a clear ladder of rungs to climb upward.

People in their 20s seem to be compelled to bounce around more, popping up here and there, quantumlike, with different jobs, living arrangements and partners while hoping that all these diverse experiences magically add up to something.

Naturally enough, their descriptions of their lives are rife with uncertainty and anxiety. Many young adults describe a familiar pattern. They try something out but soon feel trapped. They drink too much, worry about how to get out of a job or a relationship. Eventually they do, which is often easier than the anxiety beforehand. They put their life on pause, which is lonely, while they re-cohere. Then they try something else.

All the while social media makes the comparison game more intrusive than ever, and nearly everybody feels as if he or she is falling behind. Recently I came across a website with popular message tattoos. The ones people chose weren’t exactly about carefree youth. They were about endurance and resilience: “I will break but I will not fold”; “Fall down seven times, stand up eight”; “Don’t lose yourself in your fear”; “The only way out is through.”

And how do we as a society prepare young people for this uncertain phase? We pump them full of vapid but haunting praise about how talented they are and how their future is limitless. Then we send them (the most privileged of them) to colleges where the professors teach about what interests the professors. Then we preach a gospel of autonomy that says all the answers to the deeper questions in life are found by getting in touch with your “true self,” whatever the heck that is.

I used to think that the answer to the traumas of the 20s was patience. Life is long. Wait until they’re 30. They’ll figure it out. Now I think that laissez-faire attitude trivializes the experiences of young adulthood and condescends to the people going through them.

I’m beginning to side with Meg Jay, who argued in her book “The Defining Decade” that telling people “30 is the new 20” is completely counterproductive.

Jay’s book is filled with advice on how to get on with life. For example, build identity capital. If you are going to be underemployed, do it in a way that people are going to find interesting later on. Nobody is ever going to ask you, “What was it like being a nanny?” They will ask you, “What was it like leading excursions of Outward Bound?”

I’d say colleges have to do much more to put certain questions on the table, to help students grapple with the coming decade of uncertainty: What does it mean to be an adult today? What are seven or 10 ways people have found purpose in life? How big should I dream or how realistic should I be? What are the criteria we should think about before shacking up? What is the cure for sadness? What do I want and what is truly worth wanting?

Before, there were social structures that could guide young adults as they gradually figured out the big questions of life. Now, those structures are gone. Young people are confronted by the existential questions right away. They’re going to feel lost if they have no sense of what they’re pointing toward, if they have no vision of the holy grails on the distant shore.

And now here’s “gemli” with a response:

“Not to worry, Mr. Brooks. When Betsy DeVos gets through with them, children won’t have to worry about their futures. She’ll undermine their education, take away their options and teach them the three R’s: Religion, religion and religion. That’s a pyramid scheme that puts Amway to shame.

We used to tell children that they can succeed in life, and that the future was bright. We gave them hope. We promised starry-eyed youngsters that anyone could become president. Now we realize that—well, literally anyone can become president. Anyone at all. There are no qualifications. Period.

The present must seem like a confusing time to conservatives. They think that things were better in the past, and desperately want to live there. Living in the present is scary, because nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

I grew up in the past, when racism and homophobia were pervasive. We feared immanent nuclear war over Cuba. Kids were being shoveled into the furnace of Viet Nam. Abortion was a crime. It was no picnic, and college couldn’t prepare you for it. There were a few consolations, though. Wages were rising, civil rights were increasing and futures were more financially secure.

Now, not so much. The decades that Mr. Brooks misses were the ones that gave us millions of clueless voters. By contrast, today’s kids are not having any of it. They’re booing conservative throwbacks off the stage at commencement.

That’s what gives me hope for the future.”

Bobo. Just Bobo.

June 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bobo. Just Bobo.

June 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Because they can.

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

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

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

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