Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

April 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

April 21, 2017

Bobo is wailing over “The Crisis of Western Civ.”  He moans that faith in the West has collapsed and, amazingly, people have been slow to rise to defend it.  There will be a response from “Dana” in Santa Monica.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Balloon, the Box, and Health Care,” says it’s not surprising Republican repeal-and-replace efforts keep getting nowhere.  Here’s Bobo:

Between 1935 and 1975, Will and Ariel Durant published a series of volumes that together were known as “The Story of Civilization.” They basically told human history (mostly Western history) as an accumulation of great ideas and innovations, from the Egyptians, through Athens, Magna Carta, the Age of Faith, the Renaissance and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. The series was phenomenally successful, selling over two million copies.

That series encapsulated the Western civilization narrative that people, at least in Europe and North America, used for most of the past few centuries to explain their place in the world and in time. This narrative was confidently progressive. There were certain great figures, like Socrates, Erasmus, Montesquieu and Rousseau, who helped fitfully propel the nations to higher reaches of the humanistic ideal.

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals.

Starting decades ago, many people, especially in the universities, lost faith in the Western civilization narrative. They stopped teaching it, and the great cultural transmission belt broke. Now many students, if they encounter it, are taught that Western civilization is a history of oppression.

It’s amazing what far-reaching effects this has had. It is as if a prevailing wind, which powered all the ships at sea, had suddenly ceased to blow. Now various scattered enemies of those Western values have emerged, and there is apparently nobody to defend them.

The first consequence has been the rise of the illiberals, authoritarians who not only don’t believe in the democratic values of the Western civilization narrative, but don’t even pretend to believe in them, as former dictators did.

Over the past few years especially, we have entered the age of strong men. We are leaving the age of Obama, Cameron and Merkel and entering the age of Putin, Erdogan, el-Sisi, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

The events last week in Turkey were just another part of the trend. Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismantles democratic institutions and replaces them with majoritarian dictatorship. Turkey seems to have lost its desire to join the European idea, which no longer has magnetism and allure. Turkey seems to have lost its aspiration to join the community of democracies because that’s no longer the inevitable future.

More and more governments, including the Trump administration, begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-based commercial clans. Meanwhile, institutionalized, party-based authoritarian regimes, like in China or Russia, are turning into premodern cults of personality/Maximum Leader regimes, which are far more unstable and dangerous.

Then there has been the collapse of the center. For decades, center-left and center-right parties clustered around similar versions of democratic capitalism that Western civilization seemed to point to. But many of those centrist parties, like the British and Dutch Labour Parties, are in near collapse. Fringe parties rise.

In France, the hard-right Marine Le Pen and the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon could be the final two candidates in the presidential runoff. Le Pen has antiliberal views about national purity. Mélenchon is a supposedly democratic politician who models himself on Hugo Chávez.

If those two end up in the finals, then the European Union and NATO, the two great liberal institutions of modern Europe, will go into immediate crisis.

Finally, there has been the collapse of liberal values at home. On American campuses, fragile thugs who call themselves students shout down and abuse speakers on a weekly basis. To read Heather MacDonald’s account of being pilloried at Claremont McKenna College is to enter a world of chilling intolerance.

In America, the basic fabric of civic self-government seems to be eroding following the loss of faith in democratic ideals. According to a study published in The Journal of Democracy, the share of young Americans who say it is absolutely important to live in a democratic country has dropped from 91 percent in the 1930s to 57 percent today.

While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care.

The faith in the West collapsed from within. It’s amazing how slow people have been to rise to defend it.

There have been a few lonely voices. Andrew Michta laments the loss of Western confidence in an essay in The American Interest. Edward Luce offers a response in his forthcoming book “The Retreat of Western Liberalism.” But liberalism has been docile in defense of itself.

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

And now here’s what “Dana” in Santa Monica has to say about that pile:

“So let me get this straight. Millions of Americans worship at the altar of Trump because of how they were taught western civilization? The premise is absurd. First – I doubt most trump voters could identify the “cradle of civilization” let alone tell you the two rivers that form it. Critical inquiry and a more broad historical analysis of western civilization are hardly to blame. The blames lies with decades of your fellow republicans gutting education so that most Americans have never taken a western civ class let alone a good old civics class. These same Americans love to shout how they are the true patriots without having a clue about how our democracy works. Just look no further than the current fool of a president. No – you own this Mr Brooks. Trump is in office due to the willful ignorance of the American populace. It’s precisely the outcome the GOP created from their decades long smear campaign against education, secularism, scientific inquiry and rational thinking.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Imagine a man who for some reason is determined to stuff a balloon into a box — a box that, aside from being the wrong shape, just isn’t big enough. He starts working at one corner, pushing the balloon into position. But then he realizes that the air he’s squeezed out at one end has caused the balloon to expand elsewhere. So he tries at the opposite corner, but this undoes his original work.

If he’s stupid or obsessive enough, he can spend a long time at this exercise, trying it from various different angles, and maybe even briefly convince himself that he’s making progress. But he’s kidding himself: No matter what he does, the balloon isn’t going to fit in that box.

Now you understand what’s happening to G.O.P. efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans have spent many years denouncing Obamacare as a terrible, horrible, no good law and insisting that they can do much better. They successfully convinced many voters that they could preserve the good stuff — the dramatic expansion of coverage that has brought the percentage of Americans without health insurance to a record low — while reducing premiums, shrinking deductibles and, of course, doing away with the taxes on high incomes that pay for the program.

Those promises basically define the box into which they’re trying to stuff health care.

But health care costs money. In particular, if you want to make care available to Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions — including the condition of being not rich and being relatively old, but not yet eligible for Medicare — you have to find some way to subsidize them.

Obamacare provides those subsidies in part with direct public funding, in part with regulations that implicitly use premiums paid by the healthy to cover the cost of caring for the less healthy.

There are other possible ways to achieve the same goal, but the money has to come from somewhere. That basically says how much air there is in the balloon — and it makes the balloon too big for the box.

Now you understand why there’s a predictable, repetitive rhythm to the health care story.

Again and again, we read news reports to the effect that Republicans are closing in on a plan that will break the political deadlock. They’ll repeal the Obamacare taxes and block-grant Medicaid! No, they’ll make insurance cheaper by eliminating the coverage requirements! Or, the latest idea being floated, they’ll let insurance companies raise premiums on people with pre-existing conditions and compensate by creating special high-risk pools!

Blow and Krugman

April 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

April 14, 2017

Bobo is all up in arms over “The Cuomo College Fiasco.”  He snarls that New York’s “free” tuition program is a truly bad attempt at improving higher ed.  And “gemli” from Boston will explain what a putz Bobo is.  Prof. Krugman has a question:  “Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?”  He says the president has adopted a bargaining tactic that’s both nasty and stupid.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump sets the bar very high, but the award for the worst public policy idea of the year goes to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo presides over a state with a rich diversity of educational institutions. But he also presides over a state, like all states, where many students don’t complete college and where many are unprepared for the information economy. For example, fewer than half of the African-American and Hispanic students in New York public colleges graduate within six years.

Cuomo could have done many things to improve New York’s higher ed system. He could have poured all available money into the Tuition Assistance Program, which is directed at poorer students. He could have spent more to help students become academically ready for college, which is the biggest barrier to graduation. He could have done more to help students pay room and board expenses. He could have massively improved overstretched mental health services. He could have massively improved career counseling.

But in 2016 Bernie Sanders made a big splash on the campaign trail with a plan to make college “free.” So Cuomo proposed and on Wednesday signed legislation to make tuition free at New York public colleges for anybody coming from a family making no more than $100,000 a year, with the cap rising to $125,000 in 2019.

If he runs for president, this will be an outstanding talking point. Unfortunately, the law will hurt actual New Yorkers.

First, the law is regressive. It does nothing to help students from families earning less than $50,000 a year. Their tuition is already covered by other programs. But it does pay for tuition for New Yorkers who make double the state’s median income. The higher up the income scale you go, until the ceiling, the more you benefit.

Second, it doesn’t make a dent in reducing the nontuition fees, like living expenses, textbooks and travel, which for many students are far more onerous than tuition.

Third, it doesn’t cover students who don’t go to school full time and don’t complete in four years. In 2017 this is the vast, vast majority of all students, especially poorer students.

Fourth, it demotivates students. Research has shown that students who have to work to pay some college costs, even if only small expenses, are more spurred to work hard and graduate. As Northwestern researcher Chenny Ng put it in a Washington Post essay, “as the cost of attending college drops to zero, so does the perceived cost of dropping out.”

Fifth, Cuomo’s law threatens to destroy some of New York’s private colleges. Cuomo could have championed a Pell-like program that subsidizes attendance at any accredited school. Instead, he pays for tuition only at state schools.

This means that suddenly the state’s 150 private colleges have to compete with “free.” Many of these schools are already struggling to survive. If upper-middle-class students are drawn away to public colleges, private ones may close. That hurts the state’s educational diversity, it destroys jobs and it hurts the state.

These private colleges tend to have smaller classes, they tend to do a better job of graduating their students and they tend to spend heavily to subsidize poorer students.

Sixth, the law may widen the gap between rich and poor. When state schools are “free,” more people will apply. As more apply, selectivity will increase, as administrators chase higher U.S. News & World Report rankings. That will exclude students with lower credentials, who tend to be from more disadvantaged homes. Even Georgia’s successful Hope Scholarship program had this unintended consequence, widening the college attendance gap between white and black and rich and poor.

Seventh, over the long term the law could hurt the quality of New York’s state system. Right now those schools rely on tuition to help fund programs. If New York moves more toward a purely publicly funded model, it may suffer from the slow decay that has hurt many state systems. State budgets are perpetually challenged by rising entitlement spending. Education gets squeezed. The universities will try to claw back the private money with dorm fees, activities fees and other charges that don’t officially count as tuition, but still quality suffers.

Even in Germany, where a generous welfare state is valued, per-pupil spending has dropped by 10 percent since universities became free. Germany is an extremely successful country, but lecture classes are huge and the country’s universities are not generally ranked among the world’s best.

Finally, the law will hurt its recipients’ future earnings. Students who receive free tuition for four years have to remain in New York State for four years after graduating, or pay the money back. This means they won’t be able to seize out-of-state opportunities during the crucial years when their career track is being formed. They’ll be trapped in a state with one really expensive city, and other regions where good jobs are scarce.

This is a really counterproductive law. We’re all focused on Trump, but one of the reasons Trump was elected was that many of the people who try to use government to do good just haven’t thought things through.

Now here’s what “gemli” had to say about this:

“You know Cuomo is on the right track when David Brooks starts worrying about poor people. Not that he doesn’t like to talk about their plight. He takes every opportunity to promote the idea of leaving government out of the people-helping business. Volunteers are supposed to help at the community level, according to Brooks, which frees up the government to help the rich.

In this example, poor people, who may never have a chance to get a college education under any circumstances, are hit with an eight-point Brooksian fusillade of reasons why free college would be a huge burden to them, and ruin their lives, along with the great state of New York.

Looking back, my education in New Orleans in the late 1960s was nearly free. I paid for six years of college as a student worker, and earned a B.S. and an M.S. degree in the process. Looking back a bit further, the government paid returning G.I.s to go to school, and the result was the biggest social and economic upsurge in living memory.

Today, graduates are saddled with so much debt from usurious student loans that it’s a national disgrace. Nobody fixes the problem because the financial industry loves it. It’s a cash cow that never stops giving milk.

All of Brooks’ bogus complaints are aimed at making sure the status quo doesn’t change. And if anyone hadn’t already noticed, the status quo is a lousy place for the poor to be. The only door that leads out is one that opens into a classroom.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Three weeks have passed since the Trumpcare debacle. After eight years spent denouncing the Affordable Care Act, the G.O.P. finally found itself in a position to do what it had promised, and deliver something better. But it couldn’t.

And Republicans, President Trump very much included, had nobody but themselves to blame. Basically, the party has been lying all this time, and the lies finally caught up with the liars. Mr. Trump promised health care that would be “far less expensive and far better”; in the event, all he and his allies had to offer were surging premiums, higher out-of-pocket expenses and mass loss of coverage.

But Mr. Trump, as you may have noticed, isn’t big on accepting responsibility for his failures. Instead, he has decided to blame Democrats for not cooperating in the destruction of their proudest achievement in decades. And on Wednesday, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he openly threatened to sabotage health care for millions if the opposition party doesn’t give him what he wants.

In that interview, the president of the United States sounded just like a mobster trying to extort protection payments from a shopkeeper.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” he declared, referring to cost-sharing subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income families, and are crucial even to higher-income families, because they help keep insurance companies in the system. “I don’t want people to get hurt.” (Nice shop you’ve got here, shame if something were to happen to it.) “What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.” (I’m making them an offer they can’t refuse.)

It’s a nasty political tactic. It’s also remarkably stupid.

The nastiness should be obvious, but let’s spell it out. Mr. Trump is trying to bully Democrats by threatening to hurt millions of innocent bystanders — ordinary American families who have gained coverage thanks to health reform. True, Democrats care about these families — but Republicans at least pretend to care about them, too.

Why does Mr. Trump even imagine that this threat might work? Implicitly, he’s saying that hurting innocent people doesn’t bother him as much as it bothers his opponents. Actually, this is probably true — remember, we’re talking about a man who once cut off health benefits to his nephew’s seriously ill 18-month-old son to gain the upper hand in a family dispute. But it’s not the kind of thing one expects to hear from the occupant of the White House.

What makes Mr. Trump’s tactic stupid as well as nasty is the reality that Democrats have no incentive whatsoever to give in.

For one thing, what is he offering by way of a deal? Obamacare increased coverage two ways, via Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance. Mr. Trump might be able to undermine the private markets, but Medicaid wouldn’t be affected. Why would Democrats ever agree to Republican plans, which would basically kill both?

Then there’s the political reality that by sabotaging Obamacare, the Trump administration would be handing Democrats a huge electoral gift. Bear in mind that the places that are already poorly served by private insurers, and would therefore be most hurt, are relatively poor, rural areas — places that overwhelmingly voted Trump last year.

Maybe Mr. Trump believes that he could somehow shift the blame for the devastation he has threatened to wreak onto Democrats. “See, there’s the death spiral I predicted!” But that probably wouldn’t work even if he hadn’t effectively proclaimed his own guilt in advance. Voters tend to blame whoever holds the White House for bad things, and in this case they’d be right: If there is a death spiral, it will have Mr. Trump’s name on it, and deservedly so.

Put it this way: There’s a reason an open letter to Mr. Trump urging that the cost-sharing subsidies be maintained was signed by a wide array of lobbying organizations, including very conservative groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. What they understand is that sabotaging Obamacare would be a disaster for their interests.

So the Trump health care threat is, as I said, stupid as well as nasty. And it’s hard to believe that it will be carried out.

But here’s the thing: Even if Mr. Trump wimps out, as he is doing on so many other issues, he may already have done much of the threatened damage. Insurers are deciding right now whether to participate in the 2018 Obamacare exchanges. Mr. Trump’s tough talk is creating a lot of uncertainty, which in itself may undermine coverage for many Americans.

There is, of course, a good chance that Mr. Trump doesn’t understand any of this. Unfortunately, when you’re in the White House, what you don’t know can hurt a lot of people.

Blow and Krugman

April 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading the main story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

War is a business, a lucrative one.

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

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

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

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

Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

April 7, 2017

Everyone has questions this morning.  Bobo’s, in “The Coming Incompetence Crisis,” is what if the Trump administration runs out of errors?  Oh, Bobo, I’m sure that can’t happen.  For them getting out of bed in the morning is an error.  And “Dana” from Santa Monica will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Bad, the Worse and the Ugly,” asks the following:  What makes Trump different from the rest of his party?  Here’s Bobo:

I just read that the Trump administration has filled only 22 of the 553 key positions that require Senate confirmation. This makes me worry that the administration will not have enough manpower to produce the same volume and standard of incompetence that we’ve come to expect so far.

Granted, in its first few months the administration has produced an impressive amount of ineptitude with very few people.

On his worst days Sean Spicer can produce more errors than 10 normal men on their best days. Kellyanne Conway can flail her way through television confrontations 24/7 and still have the stamina to lose to the Teletubbies on Saturday morning.

The White House staffing system is successfully answering the question, How many scorpions can you fit in a bottle? And in general, the personnel process has been so rigorous in its selection of inexperience that those who were hired on the basis of mere nepotism look like Dean Acheson by comparison.

But still, I worry that at the current pace the Trump administration is going to run out of failure. So far, we’ve lived in a golden age of malfunction. Every major Trump initiative has been blocked or has collapsed, relationships with Congress are disastrous, the president’s approval ratings are at cataclysmic lows.

But can this last? By midsummer, during the high vacation and indictment season, we could see empty hallways in the West Wing and a disorienting incompetence shortage emanating from Washington.

The executive branch could simply go dark. CNN’s ratings will plummet. Columnists will wither and die. Liberals will have to go without the delicious current of schadenfreude and their daily ritual baths of moral superiority.

Now I’m not underestimating the president’s own capacity for carrying on in an incompetent manner almost indefinitely. I don’t think we’ve reached peak Trump.

The normal incompetent person flails and stammers and is embarrassed about it. But the true genius at incompetence like our president flails and founders and is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. He mistakes his catastrophes for successes and so accelerates his pace toward oblivion. Those who ignore history are condemned to retweet it.

Trump’s greatest achievements are in the field of ignorance. Up until this period I had always thought of ignorance as a void, as an absence of knowledge. But Trump’s ignorance is not just an absence; it is a rich, intricate and entirely separate universe of negative information, a sort of fertile intellectual antimatter with its own gravitational pull.

It’s not so much that he isn’t well informed; it’s that he is prodigiously learned in the sort of knowledge that doesn’t accord with the facts of our current dimension.

It is in its own way a privilege to be alive at the same time as a man who is the Albert Einstein of confirmation bias, a man whose most impressive wall is the one between himself and evidence, a man who doesn’t need to go off in search of enemies because he is already his own worst one.

But even Trump will eventually hit the limits of human endurance. I know what it is like to be profoundly incompetent, and it is exhausting.

Just to take a small example by way of illustration, in the days before GPS I was (and remain) profoundly incompetent at comprehending driving directions. I would ask for directions and all would start off normally: “Go down Fourth Street and take a right on Poplar.”

But then all would slide into a fog of incomprehensibility and I would keep nodding furiously to try to persuade the person that I could follow what was being said: “Then you toggle over that spur of the thruway that goes under the overpass before the six roundabouts of the gargle.”

By this time entire hemispheres of my brain had shut down, and as the person kept talking, my entire existence slipped into a catatonic mist: “After that it’s just six wheedles up the perplex and after a quick stop at the bolint it’s the 27th driveway on the right.”

The incompetent person in the Trump administration has to live in that stupor shroud every day.

So I hope the Trump team learns to delegate — carelessness in one office, backbiting in another. I hope the president continues to play golf (I don’t get those progressive critics who say Trump is ruining the world and then they complain because he takes time off). I hope his team continues to take advantage of the fact that it takes only one inexperienced stooge to undo the accomplishments of 100 normal workers.

And I hope it continues to negatively surpass all expectations. I remain a full-fledged member in the community of the agog.

One of the things I’ve learned about incompetence over the past few months is that it is radically nonlinear. Competent people go in one of a few directions. But incompetence is infinite.

The human imagination is not capacious enough to comprehend all the many ways the Trumpians can find to screw this thing up.

Gosh, he’s a regular stand-up comic is our Bobo…  Here’s what “Dana” from Santa Monica had to say:

“This liberal takes no pleasure on Trumps grotesque ignorance. I have no schadenfreude toward the people who voted for him. What I am is outraged and disgusted that millions of people voted for an ignorant con man to be president. I am disgusted that we have a populace who find scholarship and learning suspect while viewing Trumps ignorant nonsense as credible. I am sad that we as a nation are so ignorant that millions think that experts in diplomacy and policy are merely government hacks who add no more value than Ivanka Trump. And worst of all, I am terrified by the fact that China, Russia and many other countries are well aware that we have a fool for president. Their leadership rely on policy experts and careful studying of issues to promulgate a well thought out agenda. Meanwhile, we are at the whim of a madman who has no thoughts deeper than his own vanity and no interest in relying on actual experts for guidance. That is the incompetence that should terrify us all”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

This week’s New York Times interview with Donald Trump was horrifying, yet curiously unsurprising. Yes, the world’s most powerful man is lazy, ignorant, dishonest and vindictive. But we knew that already.

In fact, the most revealing thing in the interview may be Mr. Trump’s defense of Bill O’Reilly, accused of sexual predation and abuse of power: “He’s a good person.” This, I’d argue, tells us more about both the man from Mar-a-Lago and the motivations of his base than his ramblings about infrastructure and trade.

First, however, here’s a question: How much difference has it made, really, that Donald Trump rather than a conventional Republican sits in the White House?

The Trump administration is, by all accounts, a mess. The vast majority of key presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation are unfilled; whatever people are in place are preoccupied with factional infighting. Decision-making sounds more like palace intrigues in a sultan’s seraglio than policy formulation in a republic. And then there are those tweets.

Yet Mr. Trump’s first great policy and political debacle — the ignominious collapse of the effort to kill Obamacare — owed almost nothing to executive dysfunction. Repeal-and-replace didn’t face-plant because of poor tactics; it failed because Republicans have been lying about health care for eight years. So when the time came to propose something real, all they could offer were various ways to package mass loss of coverage.

Similar considerations apply on other fronts. Tax reform looks like a bust, not because the Trump administration has no idea what it’s doing (although it doesn’t), but because nobody in the G.O.P. ever put in the hard work of figuring out what should change and how to sell those changes.

What about areas where Mr. Trump sometimes sounds very different from ordinary Republicans, like infrastructure?

A push for a genuine trillion-dollar construction plan (as opposed to tax credits and privatization), which would need Democratic support given the predictable opposition from conservatives, would be a departure. But given what we heard in the interview — basically incoherent word salad mixed with random remarks about transportation in Queens — it’s clear that the administration has no actual infrastructure plan, and probably never will.

True, there are some places where Mr. Trump does seem likely to have a big impact — most notably, in crippling environmental policy. But that’s what any Republican would have done; climate change denialism and the belief that our air and water are too clean are mainstream positions in the modern G.O.P.

So Trumpist governance in practice so far is turning out to be just Republican governance with (much) worse management. Which brings me back to the original question: Does the appalling character of the man on top matter?

I think it does. The substance of Trump policy may not be that distinctive in practice. But style matters, too, because it shapes the broader political climate. And what Trumpism has brought is a new sense of empowerment to the ugliest aspects of American politics.

By now there’s a whole genre of media portraits of working-class Trump supporters (there are even parody versions). You know what I mean: interviews with down-on-their-luck rural whites who are troubled to learn that all those liberals who warned them that they would be hurt by Trump policies were right, but still support Mr. Trump, because they believe that liberal elites look down on them and think they’re stupid. Hmm.

Anyway, one thing the interviewees often say is that Mr. Trump is honest, that he tells it like is, which may seem odd given how much he lies about almost everything, policy and personal. But what they probably mean is that Mr. Trump gives outright, unapologetic voice to racism, sexism, contempt for “losers” and so on — feelings that have always been an important source of conservative support, but have long been things you weren’t supposed to talk about openly.

In other words, Mr. Trump isn’t an honest man or a stand-up guy, but he is, arguably, less hypocritical about the darker motives underlying his worldview than conventional politicians are.

Hence the affinity for Mr. O’Reilly, and Mr. Trump’s apparent sense that news reports about the TV host’s actions are an indirect attack on him. One way to think about Fox News in general, and Mr. O’Reilly in particular, is that they provide a safe space for people who want an affirmation that their uglier impulses are, in fact, justified and perfectly O.K. And one way to think about the Trump White House is that it’s attempting to expand that safe space to include the nation as a whole.

And the big question about Trumpism — bigger, arguably, than the legislative agenda — is whether unapologetic ugliness is a winning political strategy.

Blow and Krugman

April 3, 2017

In “Dwindling Odds of Coincidence” Mr. Blow tries connecting the dots, which have been multiplying at an alarming rate.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Trump Is Wimping Out on Trade:”  Why are big boasts turning into tiny policy tweaks?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

We are still not conclusively able to connect the dots on the question of whether there was any coordination or collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians who interfered in our election to benefit him, but those dots do continue to multiply at an alarming rate.

First, and we have to keep saying this because this fact keeps getting obscured in the subterfuge of deflection, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing about what has yet to be proven: It is absolutely clear that the Russians did interfere in our election. This is not a debatable issue. This is not fake news. This is not a witch hunt. This happened.

The investigations, rightly, are seeking to figure out exactly how and to what degree, and those questions obviously depend on knowing more about campaign contacts with Russian meddlers.

We continue to learn of new contacts between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians during the campaign. Last week we learned from The New York Times:

“Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, has offered to be interviewed by House and Senate investigators who are examining the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in exchange for immunity from prosecution, according to his lawyer and a congressional official.”

In a statement, Flynn’s lawyers teased: “General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.”

It doesn’t truly surprise me that Flynn would want immunity, although according to his own words, requests for immunity can often signal guilt. I am tantalized by this “story” he has to tell. What does that mean? It feeds the beast of speculation lurching around this administration.

Also last week The Times reported:

“A pair of White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes of California, a Republican and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with the intelligence reports that showed that President Trump and his associates were incidentally swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies.”

This signals another area of possible collusion — related not only to what happened during the election but also about the independence and impartiality of the investigation into what happened during the election.

There is something here, but I can’t yet put my finger on what it is.

But unlike some others, I find no glee in the prospect of something amiss.

To be sure, Donald Trump is a despicable man and an awful president who deserves whatever he gets. He is crude, a liar, a bully and a cheat. He is vainglorious and vengeful.

It is not clear to me that America — and indeed the world — can survive a full-term Trump presidency.

But there are no real winners here, regardless of what the current investigations reveal. Russia has already unveiled an incredible vulnerability in our electoral process — the relatively cheap vehicles of information disclosure and propaganda advancement — and the damage that has already been done to faith in the system will not only be hard to measure, but hard to erase.

The public and the press’s appetites for prurience far outweigh their appreciation of prudence.

If coordination or collusion with the Russians by anyone on the Trump campaign is revealed, just as important is the question of “What then?”

Polls continue to find a strong appetite for the ultimate remedy: Trump’s impeachment. You would get no resistance from me if it ever came to that. But I also understand the order of succession and that, too, gives me pause.

It moves from the zealot Mike Pence, to the weasel Paul Ryan, to anti-abortion crusader Orrin Hatch, to Rex “Russian Order of Friendship” Tillerson, to the former Hollywood producer Steven Mnuchin, who had to apologize last week for plugging “The Lego Batman Movie,” for which he was an executive producer.

The list goes on and on.

Yes, an administration without Trump would be less of an international embarrassment and exceedingly more predictable, but these men have all cozied up to Trump or were picked by him, so there is little daylight among them on policy.

Then there is the brazenly political, callously calculating school of thought — which is as dangerous as it is interesting — that holds that the severe distaste for sitting-PresidentTrump will likely be the best liberal motivator for success in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. Following this logic, a crippled Trump is better than a vanquished one.

At this point this is all conjecture. First we must clear the hurdle of finding out exactly what happened and who was involved. That could take months, if not years.

We must now decide how to process the mounting suggestions of impropriety.

The journalistic caution in me keeps having to write that these could all be coincidences, but the journalistic instinct has learned long ago that coincidence is the albino alligator of political reality: It exists, but is exceedingly rare.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

During the campaign, Donald Trump talked loudly and often about how he was going to renegotiate America’s “horrible trade deals,” bringing back millions of good jobs. So far, however, nothing has happened. Not only is Trumpist trade policy — Trumptrade? — nowhere to be seen in practice; there isn’t even any indication of what it will involve.

So on Friday the White House scheduled a ceremony in which Mr. Trump would sign two new executive orders on trade. The goal, presumably, was to counteract the growing impression that his bombast on trade was sound and fury signifying nothing.

Unfortunately, the executive orders in question were, to use the technical term, nothingburgers. One called for a report on the causes of the trade deficit; wait, they’re just starting to study the issue? The other addressed some minor issues of tariff collection, and its content apparently duplicated an act President Obama already signed last year.

Not surprisingly, reporters at the event questioned the president, not about trade, but about Michael Flynn and the Russia connection. Mr. Trump then walked out of the room — without signing the orders. (Vice President Mike Pence gathered them up, and the White House claims that they were signed later.)

The fiasco perfectly encapsulated what’s looking more and more like a failed agenda.

Business seems to have decided that Mr. Trump is a paper tiger on trade: The flow of corporate relocations to Mexico, which slowed briefly while C.E.O.s tried to curry favor with the new president, has resumed. Trade policy by tweet, it appears, has run its course.

Investors seem to have reached the same conclusion: The Mexican peso plunged 16 percent after the election, but since Inauguration Day it has recovered almost all the lost ground.

Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the “worst trade deal” ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.

This surely isn’t what working-class Trump supporters thought they were voting for. So why can Trumpist trade policy be summarized — to quote The Times’s Binyamin Appelbaum — as “talk loudly and carry a small stick”? Let me give two reasons.

First, back when Mr. Trump was railing against trade deals, he had no idea what he was talking about. (I know, you’re shocked to hear that.)

For example, listening to the Tweeter-in-chief, you’d think that Nafta was a big giveaway by the United States, which got nothing in return. In fact, Mexico drastically cut its tariffs on goods imported from the U.S., in return for much smaller cuts on the U.S. side.

Or take Mr. Trump’s repeated claims that China gains a competitive advantage by manipulating its currency. That was true six years ago, but it’s not true now. These days China is actually intervening to keep its currency up, not down.

Talking nonsense about trade didn’t hurt Mr. Trump during the campaign. But now he’s finding out that those grossly unfair trade deals he promised to renegotiate aren’t all that unfair, after all, leaving him with no idea what to do next.

Which brings me to Trumptrade’s second big obstacle: Whatever you think of past trade agreements, trade is now deeply embedded in the economy.

Consider the case of automobiles. At this point it makes little sense to talk about a U.S. auto industry, a Canadian auto industry or a Mexican auto industry. What we have instead is a tightly integrated North American industry, in which vehicles and components crisscross the continent, with almost every finished car containing components from all three nations.

Does it have to be this way? No. Slap on 30 percent tariffs, and after a few years those national industries would separate again. But the transition would be chaotic and painful.

Economists talk, with considerable justification, about the “China shock”: the disruptive effect on jobs and communities of the rapid growth of Chinese exports from the 1990s through 2007. But reversing globalization now would produce an equally painful “Trump shock,” disrupting jobs and communities all over again — and would also be painful for some of the big corporate interests that, strange to say, have a lot of influence in this supposedly populist regime.

The point is that at a deep level Trumptrade is running into the same wall that caused Trumpcare to crash and burn. Mr. Trump came into office talking big, sure that his predecessors had messed everything up and he — he alone — could do far better. And millions of voters believed him.

But governing America isn’t like reality TV. A few weeks ago Mr. Trump whined, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” Now, one suspects, he’s saying the same thing about trade policy.

Brooks and Krugman

March 31, 2017

Bobo has delivered himself of another whine bemoaning the lost days of yore and that old time religion.  In “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” he wails that American life has secularized and grand political ideologies have fallen away, but moral conflict has only intensified.  “Meredith” from NYC will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Coal Country Is a State of Mind:”  Will nostalgia for a much-shrunken industry destroy the planet?  Here’s Bobo:

In 1981 the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre opened his book “After Virtue” with a passage that is now famous. Imagine if we lost the theoretical coherence of science. Imagine if we still used scientific words like neutrino and atomic weight, but had no overall framework to explain how they fit together.

That’s the state of our moral discourse today, he suggested. We still use words describing virtue and vice, but without any overall metaphysics. Religious frameworks no longer organize public debate. Secular philosophies that grew out of the Enlightenment have fallen apart. We have words and emotional instincts about what feels right and wrong, but no settled criteria to help us think, argue and decide.

That diagnosis seemed accurate to many people, and it seemed to point toward a culture of easygoing relativism. With no common criteria by which to judge moral action we’d all become blandly nonjudgmental — sort of chill, pluralistic versions of Snoop Dogg: You do you and I’ll do me and we’ll all be cool about it. Whatever feels right.

But that’s not what’s happened. We haven’t entered the age of milquetoast bourgeois relativism. Instead, society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation: the cold-eyed fanaticism of students at Middlebury College and other campuses nationwide; the rage of the alt-right; holy wars over transgender bathrooms; the furious intensity at every town-hall meeting on every subject.

American life has secularized and grand political ideologies have fallen away, but moral conflict has only grown. In fact, it’s the people who go to church least — like the members of the alt-right — who seem the most fervent moral crusaders.

We’re living in an age of great moral pressure, even if we lack the words to articulate it. In fact, as Wilfred McClay points out in a brilliant essay called “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” for The Hedgehog Review, religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.

Technology gives us power and power entails responsibility, and responsibility, McClay notes, leads to guilt: You and I see a picture of a starving child in Sudan and we know inwardly that we’re not doing enough.

“Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given. I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough. … Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation — there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”

McClay is describing a world in which we’re still driven by an inextinguishable need to feel morally justified. Our thinking is still vestigially shaped by religious categories.

And yet we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness. Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.

The only reliable way to feel morally justified in that culture is to assume the role of victim. As McClay puts it, “Claiming victim status is the sole sure means left of absolving oneself and securing one’s sense of fundamental moral innocence.”

“If one wishes to be accounted innocent, one must find a way to make the claim that one cannot be held morally responsible. This is precisely what the status of victimhood accomplishes.”

I’d add that this move takes all moral striving and it politicizes it. Instead of seeing moral struggle as something between you and God (the religious version) or as something that happens between the good and evil within yourself (the classical version), moral struggle now happens primarily between groups.

We see events through the lens of moral Marxism, as a class or ethnic struggle between the evil oppressor and the supposedly innocent oppressed. The moral narrative of colonialism is applied to every situation. The concept of inherited sin is back in common currency, only these days we call it “privilege.”

As the political scientist Thomas U. Berger put it, “We live in an age of apology and recrimination.” The conflicts on campus take on a Salem witch trial intensity. In the Middle East, the Israelis and the Palestinians compete for the victimhood narrative. Even America’s heartland populists see themselves as the victims of the oppressive coastal elites. Steve Bannon is the Frantz Fanon of the whites.

Sin is a stain, a weight and a debt. But at least religions offer people a path from self-reflection and confession to atonement and absolution. Mainstream culture has no clear path upward from guilt, either for individuals or groups. So you get a buildup of scapegoating, shaming and Manichaean condemnation. “This is surely a moral crisis in the making,” McClay writes.

I notice some schools and prisons have restorative justice programs to welcome offenders back into the community. They tend to be more substantive than the cheap grace of instant forgiveness. I wonder if the wider society needs procedures like that, so the private guilt everybody feels isn’t transmuted into a public state of perpetual moral war.

And here’s what “Meredith” from NYC had to say about that:

“Metaphysics, virtue, vice? Oh, please. Spoken like a guy with great health insurance, salary, and retirement investments. And a secure gig also on the PBS Newshour.

Do NYT columnists who supported GOP right wing radicals for years have any moral conflicts now? Do they have the character and moral courage to admit how they helped prepare our poisoned political soil for Trump? How they rationalized the downward mobility and insecurity of millions due to Gop abuse of citizens?

Mr. Brook’s pious lectures on religion and guilt are symptoms of his own moral bubble that he lives in. It’s really laughable.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

West Virginia went overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in November — in fact, he beat Hillary Clinton by almost a three-to-one majority. And it may seem obvious why: The state is the heart of coal country, and Mr. Trump promised to bring coal jobs back by eliminating Obama-era environmental regulations. So at first glance the 2016 election looks like a political realignment reflecting differences in regional interests.

But that simple story breaks down when you look at the realities of the situation — and not just because environmentalism is a minor factor in coal’s decline. For coal country isn’t really coal country anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time.

Why does an industry that is no longer a major employer even in West Virginia retain such a hold on the region’s imagination, and lead its residents to vote overwhelmingly against their own interests?

Coal powered the Industrial Revolution, and once upon a time it did indeed employ a lot of people. But the number of miners began a steep decline after World War II, and especially after 1980, even though coal production continued to rise. This was mainly because modern extraction techniques — like blowing the tops off mountains — require far less labor than old-fashioned pick-and-shovel mining. The decline accelerated about a decade ago as the rise of fracking led to competition from cheap natural gas.

So coal-mining jobs have been disappearing for a long time. Even in West Virginia, the most coal-oriented state, it has been a quarter century since they accounted for as much as 5 percent of total employment.

What, then, do West Virginians actually do for a living these days? Well, many of them work in health care: Almost one in six workers is employed in the category “health care and social assistance.”

Oh, and where does the money for those health care jobs come from? Actually, a lot of it comes from Washington.

West Virginia has a relatively old population, so 22 percent of its residents are on Medicare, versus 16.7 percent for the nation as a whole. It’s also a state that has benefited hugely from Obamacare, with the percentage of the population lacking health insurance falling from 14 percent in 2013 to 6 percent in 2015; these gains came mainly from a big expansion of Medicaid.

It’s true that the nation as a whole pays for these health care programs with taxes. But an older, poorer state like West Virginia receives much more than it pays in — and it would have received virtually none of the tax cuts Trumpcare would have lavished on the wealthy.

Now think about what Trumpism means for a state like this. Killing environmental rules might bring back a few mining jobs, but not many, and mining isn’t really central to the economy in any case. Meanwhile, the Trump administration and its allies just tried to replace the Affordable Care Act. If they had succeeded, the effect would have been catastrophic for West Virginia, slashing Medicaid and sending insurance premiums for lower-income, older residents soaring.

Also, don’t forget that Paul Ryan has long pushed for the conversion of Medicare into an underfunded voucher scheme, which would be another body blow to retiree-heavy states.

And aside from the devastating effect on coverage, think about how the Republican assault on Obamacare would have affected the health sector that now employs so many West Virginians. It’s almost certain that the job losses from Trumpcare cuts would have greatly exceeded any possible gains in coal.

So West Virginia voted overwhelmingly against its own interests. And it wasn’t just because its citizens failed to understand the numbers, the reality of the trade-off between coal and health care jobs.

For the striking thing, as I said, is that coal isn’t even the state’s dominant industry these days. “Coal country” residents weren’t voting to preserve what they have, or had until recently; they were voting on behalf of a story their region tells about itself, a story that hasn’t been true for a generation or more.

Their Trump votes weren’t even about the region’s interests; they were about cultural symbolism.

Now, regional cultures that invoke a long-gone past are hardly unique to Appalachia; think of Texans wearing 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots as they stroll through air-conditioned malls. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

But when it comes to energy and environmental policy, we’re not talking about mere cultural affectations. Going backward on the environment will sicken and kill thousands in the near future; over the longer term, failing to act on climate change could, all too plausibly, lead to civilizational collapse.

So it’s incredible, and terrifying, to think that we may really be about to do all of that because Donald Trump successfully pandered to cultural nostalgia, to a longing for a vanished past when men were men and miners dug deep.

Blow and Krugman

March 27, 2017

In “The King of Crash and Burn” Mr. Blow says as the controlling party, they must move from the hissing audience to the sweltering spotlight.  Prof. Krugman considers “How to Build on Obamacare” but wonders whether Trump will prefer to make America suffer.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the movie “Iron Man 2” (yes, superhero films are my guilty pleasure, so just bear with me) the villain, a rogue Russian scientist, informs the hero, Iron Man, of his theory on how easily he could be brought down:

“If you could make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit here and watch, as the world will consume you.”

The point is clear: Invincibility is an illusion constructed by false assurances. Puncture the fantasy, expose the mortal, and the dispirited faithful will destroy the false deity.

Last week, the House Freedom Caucus made the fabricated God of Chaos bleed.

Trump was a weak president further weakened. He was already unpopular on a historic scale. He was already being proven to be a complete liar and hypocrite. He was already being exposed as a blustery failure.

But the one thing that he could hold on to was the long-maintained mirage of personal success and deal-making. He was the master of tough with the Midas touch.

The failure of Republicans to come together behind their horrible plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — even though they now control both houses of Congress and the presidency — was a crushing blow to Trump’s brand.

Trump, as is his wont, did what Trump does: Let someone else do the work — in this case Paul Ryan — and then swoop in at the end to endorse, brand and promote the project, and of course claim it as another of his own successes.

But legislation isn’t the same as luxury rental. Legislators are not the same as an obedient board.

You don’t simply have to sell yourself to brand-thirsty aspirants; you must also sell a plan to everyday people for whom the belt you notch could become their noose. For these people, the choices aren’t about a life of luxury, but about life and death.

You have to sell the plan to the members of Congress who represent these people, members whose inclination toward philosophical dogma and impulse for self-preservation sours them to sweet talk.

The loss is likely also the downside of Republican gerrymandering.

In the redrawing of districts following the 2010 census, Republicans created incredibly safe, ideologically pure districts with fewer dissenters. This protected more seats, but it also meant that the people who hold those seats have little to no incentive to ever compromise.

Republicans created hard-line districts that produced hard-line congressmen: obstructionist absolutists are gerrymandering’s political offspring.

These people weren’t elected to govern, but to impede governance. Their mandate isn’t to generate ideas and solve problems by the effective exercise of government. Their singular crusade is that government is ineffective and the solution is to forever see government itself as the problem. Ideas for them are anathema.

For years they railed against the A.C.A. and the president who pushed it through, promising America that they would repeal and replace it with something better. Trump jumped on that train during his run for the White House, promising even more than anyone could ever deliver.

But when you are the controlling party, single-minded obstruction is insufficient. You move from the hissing audience to the withering, sweltering spotlight. You have to create and perform.

When the Republicans actually had their opening to present and pass their own idea, America found it severely deficient, because it was severely deficient. Not only that, but they tried to ram it through without doing the work to promote it. It was all a comedy of errors.

The Republicans were not ready for prime time. They are not cohesive and coherent.

Trump’s incompetence ran headlong into this impossibility.

He couldn’t dictate or strong-arm. He couldn’t charm or cajole. He was embarrassingly rebuffed. The self-proclaimed winner took a monumental loss.

It was the latest loss in a string of losses. Indeed, this president in his first two months in office is proving to be the king of crash and burn.

Now, the finger-pointing has commenced. People in the White House are trying desperately to hang this loss on Ryan (and the Democrats) and keep it away from Trump.

Trump even took the oddly-timed step of using his Twitter account to direct Americans to tune in to Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News, his administration’s propaganda arm, where Pirro pilloried Ryan, scolding that he “needs to step down as speaker of the House. The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.”

Maybe it was mere coincidence — yet another one — or maybe it was maleficent stratagem. If the bill had passed, he would have basked in the glory. But when it failed, he wanted to deflect the damage.

However, in the end, this may well be a disastrous move. You don’t throw under the bus one of the only people who would stand between you and members of your own party who may one day be asked to impeach you.

A wounded Ryan might well sit back and watch, as the world consumes Trump.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” So declared Donald Trump three weeks before wimping out on his promise to repeal Obamacare. Up next: “Nobody knew that tax reform could be so complicated.” Then, perhaps: “Nobody knew that international trade policy could be so complicated.” And so on.

Actually, though, health care isn’t all that complicated. Basically, you need to induce people who don’t currently need medical treatment to pay the bills for those who do, with the promise that the favor will be returned if necessary.

Unfortunately, Republicans have spent eight years angrily denying that simple proposition. And that refusal to think seriously about how health care works is the fundamental reason Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress now look like such losers.

But put politics aside for a minute, and ask, what could be done to make health care work better going forward?

The Affordable Care Act deals with the fundamental issue of health care provision in two ways. More than half of the gains in coverage have come from expanding Medicaid — that is, collecting taxes and using the revenue to pay people’s medical bills. And that part of the program is working fine, except in Republican-controlled states that won’t let the federal government aid their residents.

But Medicaid only covers the lowest-income families. Above that level, the A.C.A. relies on private insurance companies, using a combination of regulations and subsidies to keep policies affordable. This has worked well in some places. For example, in California, which has tried hard to make health reform work, the number of people with health insurance has soared, while premiums are still well below expectations.

Overall, however, too few healthy people have purchased insurance, despite the penalty for failing to sign up; this is partly because many of the policies offered have high deductibles, making them less attractive. As a result, some companies have pulled out of the market. And this has left some areas, especially rural counties in small states, with few or no insurers.

No, it’s not a “death spiral” — subsidies keep insurance affordable for most people even if premiums rise sharply, and the Congressional Budget Office believes that markets will remain stable. But the system could and should be improved. How?

One important answer would be to spend a bit more money. Obamacare has turned out to be remarkably cheap; the Congressional Budget Office now projects its cost to be about a third lower than it originally expected, around 0.7 percent of G.D.P. In fact, it’s probably too cheap. A report from the nonpartisan Urban Institute argues that the A.C.A. is “essentially underfunded,” and would work much better — in particular, it could offer policies with much lower deductibles — if it provided somewhat more generous subsidies. The report’s recommendations would cost around 0.2 percent of G.D.P.; or to put it another way, would be around half as expensive as the tax cuts for the wealthy Republicans just tried and failed to ram through as part of Trumpcare.

What about the problem of inadequate insurance industry competition? Better subsidies would help enrollments, which in turn would probably bring in more insurers. But just in case, why not revive the idea of a public option — insurance sold directly by the government, for those who choose it? At the very least, there ought to be public plans available in areas no private insurer wants to serve.

There are other more technical things we should do too, like extending reinsurance: compensation for insurers whose risk pool turned out worse than expected. Some analysts also argue that there would be big gains from moving “off-exchange” plans onto the government-administered marketplaces.

So if Mr. Trump really wanted to honor his campaign promises about improving health coverage, if he were willing to face up to the reality that Obamacare is here to stay, there’s a lot he could do, through incremental changes, to make it work better. And he would get plenty of cooperation from Democrats along the way.

Needless to say, I don’t expect to see that happen. Improving Obamacare requires doing more, not less, moving left, not right. That’s not what Republicans want to hear.

And the tweeter-in-chief’s initial reaction to health care humiliation was, predictably, vindictive. He blamed Democrats, whom he never consulted, for Trumpcare’s political failure, predicted that “ObamaCare will explode,” and that when it does Democrats will “own it.” Since his own administration is responsible for administering the law, that sounds a lot like a promise to sabotage Americans’ health care and blame other people for the disaster.

The point, however, is that building on Obamacare wouldn’t be hard, and wouldn’t even be all that complicated.

Brooks and Krugman

March 24, 2017

In “The Trump Elite, Like the Old Elite But Worse!” Bobo tells us that Republicans behind a health care bill found a new way to ignore regular people.  And “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say.  Prof. Krugman’s “Scammers, the Scammed and America’s Fate” is on politicians who aren’t real leaders, but play leaders on TV.  Here’s Bobo:

Legislation can be crafted bottom up or top down. In bottom up you ask, What problems do voters have and how can they be addressed. In top down, you ask, What problems do elite politicians have and how can they be addressed?

The House Republican health care bill is a pure top-down document. It was not molded to the actual health care needs of regular voters. It does not have support from actual American voters or much interest in those voters. It was written by elites to serve the needs of elites. Donald Trump vowed to drain the swamp, but this bill is pure swamp.

First, the new Republican establishment leaders needed something they could call Obamacare repeal — anything that they could call Obamacare repeal.

It became clear as the legislative process rushed forward that there was no overarching vision in this legislation on how to reform health care or even an organizing thought about how to improve the lives of voters. There was no core health care priority that Republicans identified and were trying to solve.

There were just some politicians who wanted a press release called Repeal.

Second, Donald Trump needed a win. The national effects of that win seemed immaterial to him.

His lobbying efforts for the legislation were substance-free. It was all about Donald Trump — providing Trump with a pelt, polishing a credential for Trump. His lobbying revealed the vapidity of his narcissism. He didn’t mind caving to the Freedom Caucus Wednesday night on policy because he doesn’t care about policy, just the publicity win.

Third, the bill was crafted by people who were insular and nearsighted, who could see only a Washington logic and couldn’t see any national or real-life logic.

They could have drafted a bill that addressed the perverse fee-for-service incentives that drive up health costs, or a bill that began to phase out our silly employment-based system, or one that increased health security for the working and middle class.

But any large vision was beyond the drafters of this legislation. They were more concerned with bending, distorting and folding the bill to meet the Byrd rule, an arbitrary congressional peculiarity of no real purpose to the outside world. They were more concerned with what this internal faction, or that internal faction, might want. The result was a pedantic hodgepodge that made no one happy.

In 24 hours of ugly machinations, the Trump administration was willing to rip out big elements of the bill and insert big new ones, without regard to substance or ramification.

House members were rushed to commit to legislation even while major pieces of it were still in flux, when nobody had time to read it, when the Congressional Budget Office had no time to score it, when the effect on health outcomes of actual Americans was an absolute mystery.

As the negotiating process has gone on you’ve seen rank-and-file House Republicans caught between the inside game and the outside game. The logic of the inside game says vote for the bill. Support Speaker Ryan. Don’t defeat a Republican president. But the outside game screams: Oppose This Bill. It’s bad for most voters, especially Republican voters. And nobody likes it.

I opposed Obamacare. I like health savings accounts, tax credits and competitive health care markets to drive down costs. But these free-market reforms have to be funded in a way to serve the least among us, not the most. This House Republican plan would increase suffering, morbidity and death among the middle class and poor in order to provide tax cuts to the rich.

It would cut Medicaid benefits by $880 billion between now and 2026. It would boost the after-tax income for those making more than $1 million a year by 14 percent, according to the Tax Policy Center. This bill takes the most vicious progressive stereotypes about conservatives and validates them.

It’s no wonder that according to the latest Quinnipiac poll this bill has just a 17 percent approval rating. It’s no wonder that this bill is already massively more unpopular that Hillarycare and Obamacare, two bills that ended up gutting congressional majorities.

If we’re going to have the rough edges of a populist revolt, you’d think that at least somebody would be interested in listening to the people. But with this bill the Republican leadership sets an all-time new land speed record for forgetting where you came from.

The core Republican problem is this: The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided. So the Republicans have the politics driving the substance, not the other way around. The new elite is worse than the old elite — and certainly more vapid.

Now here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“For a populist revolt to work, Mr. Brooks says politicians should have listened to the people. Well, that didn’t happen. But neither did the people listen to the politicians.

The so-called president made it clear that he had no clue about anything, much less having the discipline, the experience, the subtlety of understanding or the interest to do anything for the people. He couldn’t form a coherent sentence, and what he did manage to say was a jumble of self-aggrandizing nonsense, vulgar boasting and utter falsehoods.

Likewise, Congressional Republicans had spent eight years leading by obstruction, shut-downs and filibuster. They voted sixty times to symbolically repeal Obamacare without offering anything to replace it. Who in their wildest dreams could have thought that a real “plan” was in the offing?

Mr. Brooks aided and abetted the frenzy, writing against Obamacare, and thinking that healthcare can be handled by competitive markets. Healthcare is not like buying shoes and soda pop. People don’t have a choice when they’re sick and dying.

The so-called populists may have been revolting, but that’s not the same as a populist revolt. This was a government and a people who were powered by hate and resentment. They overlooked the obvious warning signs, closed their ears to the bells and sirens that signaled danger, and voted for a crotch-groping ignoramus.

A sick government can’t provide healthcare for its people. And our government is at death’s door.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Many people are horrified, and rightly so, by what passes for leadership in today’s Washington. And it’s important to keep the horror of our political situation up front, to keep highlighting the lies, the cruelty, the bad judgment. We must never normalize the state we’re in.

At the same time, however, we should be asking ourselves how the people running our government came to wield such power. How, in particular, did a man whose fraudulence, lack of concern for those he claims to care about and lack of policy coherence should have been obvious to everyone nonetheless manage to win over so many gullible souls?

No, this isn’t a column about whatshisname, the guy on Twitter, who’s getting plenty of attention. It’s about Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House.

I’m writing this column without knowing the legislative fate of the American Health Care Act, Mr. Ryan’s proposed Obamacare replacement. Whatever happens in the House and the Senate, however, there’s no question that the A.H.C.A. is one of the worst bills ever presented to Congress.

It would deprive tens of millions of health insurance — the decline in the number of insured Americans would be larger than what would result from simple repeal of Obamacare! — while sharply raising expenses for many of those who remain. It would be especially punitive for lower-income, older, rural voters.

In return, we would get a small reduction in the budget deficit. Oh, and a tax cut, perhaps as much as $1 trillion, for the wealthy.

This is terrible stuff. It’s made worse by the lies Mr. Ryan has been telling about his plan.

He claims that it would lower premiums; it would actually increase them. He claims that it would end the Obamacare death spiral; there isn’t a death spiral, and his plan would be more, not less, vulnerable to a vicious circle of rising premiums and falling enrollment. He claims that it would lead to “patient-centered care”; whatever that is supposed to mean, it would actually do nothing to increase choice.

Some people seem startled both by the awfulness of Mr. Ryan’s plan and by the raw dishonesty of his sales pitch. But why? Everything we’ve seen from Mr. Ryan amid the health care debacle — everything, that is, except the press coverage — has been completely consistent with his previous career. That is, he’s still the same guy I wrote about back in 2010, in a column titled “The Flimflam Man.”

I wrote that column in response to what turned out to be the first of a series of high-profile Ryan budget proposals. While differing in detail, all of these proposals share a family resemblance: Like his health plan, each involved savage cuts in benefits for the poor and working class, with the money released by these cuts used to offset large tax cuts for the rich. All were, however, sold on false pretenses as plans for deficit reduction.

Worse, the alleged deficit reduction came entirely from “magic asterisks”: claims about huge savings to be achieved by cutting unspecified government spending, huge revenue increases to be achieved by closing unspecified tax loopholes. It was a con job all the way.

So how did Mr. Ryan reach a position where his actions may reshape the lives of so many of his fellow citizens, in most cases very much for the worse? The answer lies in the impenetrable gullibility of his base. No, not his constituents: the news media, who made him what he is.

You see, until very recently both news coverage and political punditry were dominated by the convention of “balance.” This meant, in particular, that when it came to policy debates one was always supposed to present both sides as having equally well-founded arguments. And this in turn meant that it was necessary to point to serious, honest, knowledgeable proponents of conservative positions.

Enter Mr. Ryan, who isn’t actually a serious, honest policy expert, but plays one on TV. He rolls up his sleeves! He uses PowerPoint! He must be the real deal! So that became the media’s narrative. And media adulation, more than anything else, propelled him to his current position.

Now, however, the flimflam has hit a wall. Mr. Ryan used to be able to game the Congressional Budget Office, getting it to produce reports that looked to the unwary like proper scores of his plans, but weren’t. This time, however, he couldn’t pull it off: The C.B.O. told the devastating truth about his plan, and his evasions and lies were too obvious to ignore.

There’s an important lesson here, and it’s not just about health care or Mr. Ryan; it’s about the destructive effects of false symmetry in reporting at a time of vast asymmetry in reality.

This false symmetry — downplaying the awfulness of some candidates, vastly exaggerating the flaws of their opponents — isn’t the only reason America is in the mess it’s in. But it’s an important part of the story. And now we’re all about to pay the price.