Archive for the ‘Brooks’ Category

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.”

Brooks and Cohen

June 13, 2017

Bobo has decided to pose a question:  “Is Radicalism Possible Today?”  He gurgles that the best change is not hasty, as dreamed by the last century’s idealists, but a gradual, grinding conversation.  “Jack Mahoney” from Brunswick, Maine will have things to say to him.  Mr. Cohen, in “Theresa May’s Weak and Wobbly Outfit,” says a feeble hand means a soft Brexit, if one can be negotiated at all.  Here’s Bobo:

Are you feeling radical? Do you think that the status quo is fundamentally broken and we have to start thinking about radical change? If so, I’d like to go back a century so that we might learn how radicalism is done.

The years around 1917 were a great period of radical ferment. Folks at The New Republic magazine were championing progressivism, which would transform how the economy is regulated and how democracy works. At The Masses, left-wing activists were fomenting a global socialist revolution. Outside the White House radical suffragists were protesting for the right to vote and creating modern feminism.

People in those days had one thing we have in abundance: an urge to rebel against the current reality — in their case against the brutalities of industrialization, the rigidities of Victorianism, the stale formulas of academic thinking.

But they also had a whole series of mechanisms they thought they could use to implement change. If you were searching for a new consciousness, there was a neighborhood to go to: Greenwich Village. If you were searching for a dissident lifestyle, there was one — Bohemianism, with its artistic rejection of commercial life.

People had faith in small magazines as the best lever to change the culture and the world. People had faith in the state, in central planning as an effective tool to reorganize the economy and liberate the oppressed. Radicals had faith in the working class, to ally with the intellectuals and form a common movement against concentrated wealth.

There were many people then who had a genius for creating ideals, and for betting their whole lives on an effort to live out these ideals. I’ve just been reading Jeremy McCarter’s inspiring and entertaining new book “Young Radicals,” which is a group portrait of five of those radicals: Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne, Max Eastman, Alice Paul and John Reed.

All of them had a youthful and exuberant faith that transformational change was imminently possible. Reed was the romantic adventurer — the one who left Harvard and ventured to be at the center of wherever the action might be — union strikes, the Russian Revolution. Paul was the dogged one — the diminutive activist who gave up sleep, gave up leisure, braved rancid prisons to serve the suffragist movement.

But the two true geniuses were Lippmann and Bourne, who offer lessons on different styles of radicalism. With his magisterial, organized mind, Lippmann threw his lot in with social science, with rule by experts. He believed in centralizing and nationalizing, and letting the best minds weigh the evidence and run the country. He lived his creed, going from socialist journalism to the halls of Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

Bourne was more visionary and vulnerable. He’d grown up in a stiflingly dull WASP town. It was only when he met the cosmopolitan stew of different ethnicities in New York that he got the chance to “breathe a larger air.” At a time of surging immigration, and fierce debate over it, Bourne celebrated that “America is coming to be, not a nationality but a trans-nationality, a weaving back and forth, with the other lands, of many threads of all sizes and colors.”

Bourne believed in decentralized change — personal, spiritual, a revolution in consciousness. The “Beloved Community” he imagined was a bottom-up, Whitmanesque “spiritual welding,” a graceful coming together of unlike ethnicities.

The crucial decision point came as the United States approached entry into World War I. Lippmann supported the war, believing that it would demand more federal planning and therefore would accelerate social change. Bourne was appalled by such instrumentalist thinking, by the acceptance of war’s savagery. As McCarter puts it, “As Bourne has been arguing, no choice that supports a war will realize any ideal worth the name.”

The radicals split between pragmatists willing to work within the system and visionaries who raised larger possibilities from outside. Spreading their ideals, they pushed America forward. Living out their ideals, most were disillusioned. Reed lost faith in the Soviet Union. Lippmann lost faith in Wilson after Versailles. Bourne died marginalized and bitter during the flu epidemic of 1918.

Bourne was the least important radical a century ago, but with his fervent embrace of a decentralized, globalist, cosmopolitan world, he is the most relevant today. He is the best rebuttal to both Trumpian populism and the multicultural separatist movements on the left, who believe in separate graduation ceremonies by race, or that the normal exchange of ideas among people represents cultural appropriation.

Most of the 20th-century radicals were wrong to put their faith in a revolutionary vanguard, a small group who could see farther and know better. Bourne was right to understand that the best change is dialogical, the gradual, grinding conversation, pitting interest against interest, one group’s imperfections against another’s, but bound by common nationhood and humanity.

Are we really going to hand revolutionary power to the state, the intellectuals, the social scientists, the working class or any other class? No. This is not 1917. But can we recommit ourselves to the low but steady process of politics, bartering and exchanging, which is incremental about means but radical about ends? That’s a safer bet.

And now here’s what “Jack Mahoney” has to say about that:

“David, aren’t labels fun?

For example, for the last 40 years, a bloc of voters and politicians has done everything in its power to unravel GOP Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s America that built superhighways and taxed the richest (and therefore those most beholden to the opportunities inherent in a land with so few highwaymen and home invaders) severely.

Somehow, under his Socialist lash, tearing up America to build an Interstate Highway system made up of “freeways,” meaning that drivers could make use of them without paying tolls, the country surged ahead. The GI Bill made going to college and buying a house easier for veterans. In New York City, college tuition was free. This country, which boasts that hard work and determination can make a poor kid into a rich adult, seemed to be coming through on that promise.

Then came the privatizers, waving Ayn Rand as if her prescriptions weren’t the equivalent of L. Ron Hubbard’s, arguing that mutual action denied each of us the opportunity to … what exactly? How does free college adversely impact individuals’ education and the national level of learning? How does allowing the country’s infrastructure to so grossly deteriorate celebrate individual achievement? How does privatizing our occupation forces in Asia make America stronger?

Almost mockingly, the dismantlers of America called themselves conservative, and somehow the supine press has gone along with the joke.

They have ripped out the guts of America. Healthcare’s next.”

Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The British, sleepwalking into what Will Hutton of The Guardian has called “a national act of self-harm on an epic scale,” have voted to be near ungovernable – a condition in which the enfeebled Prime Minister Theresa May claims she can offer “certainty,” but that in fact constitutes, as she has conceded, a “mess.”

The epic self-harm is, of course, Britain’s planned exit by 2019 from the European Union, the foundation of its prosperity and strategic heft over more than four decades. The self-inflicted mess stems from the prime minister’s humiliation in an election last week: call it May-hem. She is set to limp, vulnerable to the whims of her Conservative Party and to any crisis, into a rickety government propped up by a bunch of rabid Ulster Unionists who are the ideological heirs of the firebrand preacher, Ian Paisley.

An inept campaign saw May promising “strong and stable” government so often it became a joke. Britain, on the eve of a momentous negotiation that will define the lives of the youth who never wanted “Brexit,” now has the opposite: weak and wobbly government. This will mean that May has to compromise more; hence a softer departure from the Union, if there’s enough political coherence even for that. Those who cling, as I do, to the faint hope that Brexit will collapse under the weight of its folly have been given a fillip; this is not over.

May has been repudiated for her arrogance, but above all for her utter vacuity. Almost single-handedly she revived the Labour Party of the leftist Jeremy Corbyn, who at least appeared to believe in something.

May was for remaining in the Union before she was against it; at which point all she could say was “Brexit means Brexit.” This tautology, combined with May’s laughable fantasy of taking Britain “global” by exiting a single market of more than a half-billion people, summed up the nothingness of a decision informed by lies, fueled by jingoism, and spearheaded by charlatans.

The Conservative Party through a double own-goal – first the needless Brexit referendum and then May’s needless snap election – has delivered the country to polarization. The political center has evaporated. The extremes, and The Daily Mail, have won. Economic downturn, fueled by uncertainty, is almost sure to follow.

Together, Britain and the United States have succumbed to a strange delusion of restored greatness, symbolized by May’s embrace of Donald Trump. It is the allies’ un-finest hour. They have turned inward; they have turned nasty. Trump’s planned visit to Britain later this year, a sop to his vainglory that revealed British desperation at the loss of Europe, is on hold – because a sitting American president is that unpopular in London! To sabotage British goodwill toward America to this degree is something, even for Trump.

There is a vacuum where Anglo-American liberalism once stood: Angela Merkel’s Germany and Emmanuel Macron’s France have stepped up to face down Vladimir Putin and his ilk. The postwar order had a good run: 1945-2017.

Fintan O’Toole offered a good summary of Brexit in The New York Review of Books: “Strip away the post-imperial make-believe and the Little England nostalgia, and there’s almost nothing there, no clear sense of how a middling European country with little native industry can hope to thrive by cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner and most important political alliance.”

Still, it’s what the people, or at least a narrow majority, wanted. That has to be respected, unless the people change their mind.

May’s other mantra was, “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal.” That’s off the table, unless Ireland along with British prosperity is to be sacrificed on the Brexit altar. The Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, whose ten seats are now essential to May’s flimsy majority, are anti-abortion and anti-same-sex marriage, but even they are not so retrograde as to want a hard border with Ireland, an E.U. member, imposed as a result of a chaotic exit. Nor do they want the border controls that would accompany British withdrawal from the customs union. May’s D.U.P. dalliance does not come free.

The prime minister will also have to listen more to Conservatives, like Ken Clarke, who have opposed a hard Brexit. She will have to accept that the E.U. is going to exact a price for this decision: Britain cannot have its cake and eat it. If the country wants to remain in the single market, overwhelmingly in its interest, it will have to accept free movement of people, but then, as Hugo Dixon observed on Infacts.org, “Wouldn’t we be better off staying in the E.U., where we have lots of influence?”

Weak and wobbly means weak and wobbly. May could well fall within the next two years, possibly leading to another election. A parliament that is restive may reject any deal she does cobble together. Buyers’ regret was evident in the Labour surge. It is no longer wishful thinking to believe such regret could yet lead to a second referendum, based this time on real terms rather than wretched lies.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 10, 2017

Here they are, a day late (sorry about that!), but I guess better late than never.  In “It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Culture” Bobo tells us that the Trump presidency will probably not be brought down by outside forces. Instead, it will implode.  Mr. Cohen says “James Comey Moves the Pendulum,” and that Trump is vulnerable. He wanted the former F.B.I. director to “lift the cloud” but it has now enveloped him.  Prof. Krugman, in “Wrecking the Ship of State,” says Trump shows the damage a bad president can do.  Here’s Bobo:

The first important part of James Comey’s testimony was that he cast some doubt on reports that there was widespread communication between the Russians and the Trump campaign. That was the suspicion that set off this whole chain of events and the possibility that could have quickly brought about impeachment proceedings.

The second important implication of the hearings is that as far as we know, Donald Trump has not performed any criminal act that would merit removing him from office.

Sure, he cleared the room so he could lean on Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn. But he didn’t order Comey to shut down the investigation as a whole or do any of the things (like following up on the request) that would constitute real obstruction.

And sure, Trump did later fire Comey. But it’s likely that the Comey firing had little or nothing to do with the Flynn investigation.

Trump was, as always, thinking about himself. Comey had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation. Trump wanted Comey to repeat that fact publicly. When Comey didn’t, Trump took it as a sign that Comey was disloyal, an unforgivable sin. So he fired him, believing, insanely, that the move would be popular.

All of this would constitute a significant scandal in a normal administration, but it would not be grounds for impeachment.

The third important lesson of the hearing is that Donald Trump is characterologically at war with the norms and practices of good government. Comey emerged as a superb institutionalist, a man who believes we are a nation of laws. Trump emerged as a tribalist and a clannist, who simply cannot understand the way modern government works.

Trump is also plagued with a self-destructive form of selfishness. He is consumed by a hunger for affirmation, but, demented by his own obsessions, he can’t think more than one step ahead.

In search of praise he is continually doing things that will end up bringing him condemnation. He lies to people who have the power to publicly devastate him. He betrays people who have the power to damage him. Trump is most dangerous to the people who are closest to him and are in the best position to take their revenge.

The upshot is the Trump administration will probably not be brought down by outside forces. It will be incapacitated from within, by the bile, rage and back-stabbing that are already at record levels in the White House staff, by the dueling betrayals of the intimates Trump abuses so wretchedly.

Although there may be no serious collusion with the Russians, there is now certain to be a wide-ranging independent investigation into all things Trump.

These investigations will take a White House that is already acidic and turn it sulfuric. James Hohmann and Joanie Greve had a superb piece in the Daily 202 section of The Washington Post. They compiled the lessons people in the Clinton administration learned from the Whitewater scandal, and applied them to the Trump White House.

If past is prologue, this investigation will drag on for a while. The Clinton people thought the Whitewater investigation might last six months, but the inquiries lasted over seven years. The Trump investigation will lead in directions nobody can now anticipate. When the Whitewater investigation started, Monica Lewinsky was an unknown college student and nobody had any clue that an investigation into an Arkansas land deal would turn into an investigation about sex.

This investigation will ruin careers far and wide. Investigators go after anybody they think can yield information on the president. Before the Whitewater investigators got to Clinton they took down Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, Webb Hubbell, Susan and Jim McDougal, and many others.

This investigation will swallow up day-to-day life. As Clinton alum Jennifer Palmieri wrote in an op-ed in the USA Today network of newspapers: “No one in a position of authority at the White House tells you what is happening. No one knows. Your closest colleague could be under investigation and you would not know. You could be under investigation and not know. It can be impossible to stay focused on your job.”

Everybody will be affected. Betty Currie, Bill Clinton’s personal secretary, finally refused to mention the names of young White House employees to the investigators because every time she mentioned a name, the kid would get a subpoena, which meant thousands of dollars of ruinous legal fees.

If anything, the Trump investigation will probably be more devastating than the Whitewater scandals. The Clinton team was a few shady characters surrounded by a large group of super-competent straight arrows. The Trump administration is shady characters through and through. Clinton himself was a savvy operator. Trump is a rage-prone obsessive who will be consumed by this.

The good news is the civic institutions are weathering the storm. The Senate Intelligence Committee put on a very good hearing. The F.B.I. is maintaining its integrity. This has, by and large, been a golden age for the American press corps. The bad news is that these institutions had better be. The Trump death march will be slow, grinding and ugly.

So, Bobo gurgles that what we’re seeing now will “probably” be worse than Whitewater.  Interesting…  James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, has said that “Watergate pales in comparison.”  Who ya gonna believe — Bobo or Clapper?  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

Somebody’s lying. I think we know who it is. People have habits; to lie is one of Donald Trump’s.

On May 18 Trump was asked: “Did you, at any time, urge former F.B.I. Director James Comey, in any way, shape or form, to close or to back down the investigation into Michael Flynn?” The president’s response: “No. No. Next question.”

Comey, in his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, says that in a Feb. 14 Oval Office meeting Trump did precisely what he denies. The president asked the attorney general and his son-in-law Jared Kushner (among others) to leave the room before — one on one — broaching a matter he should never have raised. Alluding to Flynn, Trump told Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

A meticulous man, Comey immediately wrote a memo recording this improper attempt by Trump to halt the F.B.I. investigation of the former national security adviser and his dealings with Russia. Alone in the Oval Office with a president who had already tried through a veiled threat to establish a “patronage relationship,” Comey, as he explained in testimony to the committee, interpreted the president’s words as “a direction.”

How could he not? The mob slides in the knife with a let’s-hope-for-the-best smile. Trump was “hoping” for Flynn’s absolution the way King Henry II was hoping for Thomas Becket’s elimination when he wondered aloud if nobody would rid him of this “turbulent priest.” Becket was duly murdered.

Trump had fired Flynn the previous day. He was worried; Flynn knows a lot. So much, in fact, that in Vladimir Putin’s Russia he’d be dead. Indeed if Trump, from Comey’s testimony, seems more than ready to cast aside “some of my satellites” for their Russian shenanigans — perhaps even Kushner — he’s obsessive about Flynn.

The president appointed him despite warnings from Barack Obama; stuck by him for 18 days after Sally Yates, the acting attorney general at the time, warned him that Flynn was compromised by the Russians; made his first insistent demands for “loyalty” from Comey the day after the Yates warning; fired Flynn only to ask Comey to “let this go”; and dismissed Comey for a cascade of contradictory reasons whose essence was that he’d resisted Trump’s attempts to alter the way the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation was being conducted.

Why Flynn? We will find out. My suggestion: follow the money. I’m sure that’s what Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is already doing. No doubt Mueller is also wondering what possible benign motive could lead Trump to clear the Oval Office before asking the F.B.I. director to spare Flynn.

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to smell a rat. Russia is big; so is Trump’s problem with it. He never — never! — asked Comey what should be done to stop Russian interference in American democracy. Yet, as Comey said in his testimony: “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle.” The effort was driven “from the top of that government;” it was “about as unfake as you can possibly get.” Trump’s silence on this subversion qualifies as sinister.

Trump called Comey “a showboat.” That’s funny. Comey, conscientious to a fault, is an American patriot who understands that the law and defense of the Constitution stand at the core of the nation’s being. Dispense with them, you dispense with America. “We remain that shining city on the hill,” he insisted. Trump, by contrast, has always skirted the law and since his inauguration has shown contempt for the Constitution. The only thing that interests the president about checks and balances is how to dispense with them.

As Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, put it to me: “Trump’s business is infecting the people around him. To show loyalty you have to engage in the corrupt or mendacious behavior he engages in. So he’s a form of contagion — and Comey did not want the investigation infected.”

That’s the sum of this sordid story. Trump wanted Comey to show “loyalty,’’ by which he meant pliant subservience; he wanted him to shelve the F.B.I. investigation of Flynn; he demanded that Comey “lift the cloud” of the Russian investigation by declaring that Trump was not being personally investigated; and then fired Comey for his refusal to obey the “boss.” The firing was a vain attempt to get the pressure of the Russia investigation relieved, as Trump subsequently boasted he had — to the Russians no less.

What was Trump’s motive? It’s hard to see an innocent one. His actions look like a corrupt attempt to interfere with the due administration of justice — that is, the independent F.B.I. investigation. Given Republican control of Congress, it’s very unlikely there’ll be any move to impeach until Mueller completes his inquiry. But if Mueller suggests the president could be indicted, impeachment proceedings will be hard to resist — and then, as Burbank put it, “what we might colloquially call ‘obstruction of justice’ might be deemed a high crime or misdemeanor even if it would not violate federal criminal law.”

Comey has moved the pendulum. Trump is vulnerable.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

After Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, many people on the right and even in the center tried to make the case that he wouldn’t really be that bad. Every time he showed a hint of self-restraint — even if it amounted to nothing more than reading his lines without ad-libbing and laying off Twitter for a day or two — pundits rushed to declare that he had just “become president.”

But can we now admit that he really is as bad as — or worse than — his harshest critics predicted he would be? And it’s not just his contempt for the rule of law, which came through so clearly in the James Comey testimony: As the legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin says, if this isn’t obstruction of justice, what is? There’s also the way Trump’s character, his combination of petty vindictiveness with sheer laziness, leaves him clearly not up to doing the job.

And that’s a huge problem. Think, for a minute, of just how much damage this man has done on multiple fronts in just five months.

Take health care. It’s still unclear whether Republicans will ever be able to pass a replacement for Obamacare (although it is clear that if they do, it will take coverage away from tens of millions). But whatever happens on the legislative front, there are big problems developing in the insurance markets as we speak: companies pulling out, leaving some parts of the country unserved, or asking for large increases in premiums.

Why? It’s not, whatever Republicans may say, because Obamacare is an unworkable system; insurance markets were clearly stabilizing last fall. Instead, as insurers themselves have been explaining, the problem is the uncertainty created by Trump and company, especially the failure to make clear whether crucial subsidies will be maintained. In North Carolina, for example, Blue Cross Blue Shield has filed for a 23 percent rise in premiums, but declared that it would have asked for only 9 percent if it were sure that cost-sharing subsidies would continue.

So why hasn’t it received that assurance? Is it because Trump believes his own assertions that he can cause Obamacare to collapse, then get voters to blame Democrats? Or is it because he’s too busy rage-tweeting and golfing to deal with the issue? It’s hard to tell, but either way, it’s no way to make policy.

Or take the remarkable decision to take Saudi Arabia’s side in its dispute with Qatar, a small nation that houses a huge U.S. military base. There are no good guys in this quarrel, but every reason for the U.S. to stay out of the middle.

So what was Trump doing? There’s no hint of a strategic vision; some sources suggest that he may not even have known about the large U.S. base in Qatar and its crucial role.

The most likely explanation of his actions, which have provoked a crisis in the region (and pushed Qatar into the arms of Iran) is that the Saudis flattered him — the Ritz-Carlton projected a five-story image of his face on the side of its Riyadh property — and their lobbyists spent large sums at the Trump Washington hotel.

Normally, we would consider it ridiculous to suggest that an American president could be so ignorant of crucial issues, and be led to take dangerous foreign policy moves with such crude inducements. But can we believe this about a man who can’t accept the truth about the size of his inauguration crowds, who boasts about his election victory in the most inappropriate circumstances? Yes.

And consider his refusal to endorse the central principle of NATO, the obligation to come to our allies’ defense — a refusal that came as a shock and surprise to his own foreign policy team. What was that about? Nobody knows, but it’s worth considering that Trump apparently ranted to European Union leaders about the difficulty of setting up golf courses in their nations. So maybe it was sheer petulance.

The point, again, is that everything suggests that Trump is neither up to the job of being president nor willing to step aside and let others do the work right. And this is already starting to have real consequences, from disrupted health coverage to ruined alliances to lost credibility on the world stage.

But, you say, stocks are up, so how bad can it be? And it’s true that while Wall Street has lost some of its initial enthusiasm for Trumponomics — the dollar is back down to pre-election levels — investors and businesses don’t seem to be pricing in the risk of really disastrous policy.

That risk is, however, all too real — and one suspects that the big money, which tends to equate wealth with virtue, will be the last to realize just how big that risk really is. The American presidency is, in many ways, sort of an elected monarchy, in which a temperamentally and intellectually unqualified leader can do immense damage.

That’s what’s happening now. And we’re barely one-tenth of the way through Trump’s first term. The worst, almost surely, is yet to come.

Welp, it’s time to head back under the bed…

Solo Bobo

June 6, 2017

Bobo is dreaming about “Giving Away Your Billion.”  He asks himself:  What would I do if I had a billion bucks to use for good?  “James” from Portland will have a few things to say.  Here’s Bobo:

Recently I’ve been reading the Giving Pledge letters. These are the letters that rich people write when they join Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge campaign. They take the pledge, promising to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime, and then they write letters describing their giving philosophy.

“I suppose I arrived at my charitable commitment largely through guilt,” writes George B. Kaiser, an oil and finance guy from Oklahoma, who is purported to be worth about $8 billion. “I recognized early on that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck. I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents. So, I had the advantage of both genetics … and upbringing.”

Kaiser decided he was “morally bound to help those left behind by the accident of birth.” But he understood the complexities: “Though almost all of us grew up believing in the concept of equal opportunity, most of us simultaneously carried the unspoken and inconsistent ‘dirty little secret’ that genetics drove much of accomplishment so that equality was not achievable.”

His reading of modern brain research, however, led to the conclusion that genetic endowments can be modified by education, if you can get to kids early. Kaiser has directed much of his giving to early childhood education.

Most of the letter writers started poor or middle class. They don’t believe in family dynasties and sometimes argue that they would ruin their kids’ lives if they left them a mountain of money. Schools and universities are the most common recipients of their generosity, followed by medical research and Jewish cultural institutions. A ridiculously disproportionate percentage of the Giving Pledge philanthropists are Jewish.

Older letter writers have often found very specific niches for their giving — fighting childhood obesity in Georgia. Younger givers, especially the tech billionaires, are vague and less thoughtful.

A few letters burn with special fervor. These people generally try to solve a problem that touched them directly. Dan Gilbert, who founded Quicken Loans, had a son born with neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that affects the brain. Gordon Gund went fully blind in 1970. Over the ensuing 43 years, he and his wife helped raise more than $600 million for blindness research.

The letters set off my own fantasies. What would I do if I had a billion bucks to use for good? I’d start with the premise that the most important task before us is to reweave the social fabric. People in disorganized neighborhoods need to grow up enmeshed in the loving relationships that will help them rise. The elites need to be reintegrated with their own countrymen.

Only loving relationships transform lives, and such relationships can be formed only in small groups. Thus, I’d use my imaginary billion to seed 25-person collectives around the country.

A collective would be a group of people who met once a week to share and discuss life. Members of these chosen families would go on retreats and celebrate life events together. There would be “clearness committees” for members facing key decisions.

The collectives would be set up for people at three life stages. First, poor kids between 16 and 22. They’d meet in the homes of adult hosts and help one another navigate the transition from high school to college.

Second, young adults across classes between 23 and 26. This is a vastly under-institutionalized time of life when many people suffer a Telos Crisis. They don’t know why they are here and what they are called to do. The idea would be to bring people across social lines together with hosts and mentors, so that they could find a purpose and a path.

Third, successful people between 36 and 40. We need a better establishment in this country. These collectives would identify the rising stars in local and national life, and would help build intimate bonds across parties and groups, creating a baseline of sympathy and understanding these people could carry as they rose to power.

The collectives would hit the four pressure points required for personal transformation:

Heart: By nurturing deep friendships, they would give people the secure emotional connections they need to make daring explorations.

Hands: Members would get in the habit of performing small tasks of service and self-control for one another, thus engraving the habits of citizenship and good character.

Head: Each collective would have a curriculum, a set of biographical and reflective readings, to help members come up with their own life philosophies, to help them master the intellectual virtues required for public debate.

Soul: In a busy world, members would discuss fundamental issues of life’s purpose, so that they might possess the spiritual true north that orients a life.

The insular elites already have collectives like this in the form of Skull and Bones and such organizations. My billion would support collectives across society, supporting the homes and retreats where these communities would happen, offering small slush funds they could use for members in crisis.

Now all I need is a hedge fund to get started.

Sod off, Bobo.  Here’s what “James” has to say about Bobo’s POS:

“You are laughable and sound like a starry eyed youth pastor. Until the disparity of wealth in this country is reduced to 1950-60 levels, until voter suppression is abolished along with its evil cousin Gerrymandering, all the talking, hand holding, and picnics will ever accomplish is another failed election between power hungry hopefuls.

I’d use my billion to try and change the tax codes so billionaires paid their fare share and inheritance were capped at 1 million dollars. Only by eradicating dynasties can America get back to the principles of our promise. –I know, I am dreaming.”