Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

July 21, 2017

Bobo has just made an important discovery:  “Republicans Can’t Pass Bills.”  From his fainting couch, clutching his pearls, he tells us that the G.O.P. used to be willing to govern. Not now.  No shit, Sherlock.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a response.  Prof. Krugman, in “Health Care in a Time of Sabotage,” says Republicans are working hard to make Obamacare fail.  Here’s Bobo:

There are many different flavors of freedom. For example, there is freedom as capacity and freedom as detachment.

Freedom as capacity means supporting people so they have the ability to take advantage of life’s opportunities. You encourage your friend to stick with piano practice so he will have the freedom to really play. You support your child during high school so she will have the liberty to pick her favorite college.

Freedom as detachment is giving people space to do their own thing. It’s based on the belief that people flourish best when they are unimpeded as much as possible. Freedom as detachment is marked by absence — the absence of coercion, interference and obstacles.

Back when the Republican Party functioned as a governing party it embraced both styles of freedom, but gave legislative priority to freedom of capacity. Look at the Republicans’ major legislative accomplishments of the past 30 years. They used government to give people more capacities.

In 1990, George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, which gave disabled people more freedom to move about society. In 1996, Republicans passed and Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform law that tied benefits to work requirements so that recipients would develop the skills they need to succeed in the labor force. In 2003, Republicans passed a law giving Americans a new prescription drug benefit, which used market mechanisms to give them more control over how to use it.

These legislative accomplishments were about using government in positive ways to widen people’s options. They aimed at many of the same goals as Democrats — broader health coverage, lower poverty rates — but relied on less top-down mechanisms to get there.

Over the past few decades Republicans cast off the freedom-as-capacity tendency. They became, exclusively, the party of freedom as detachment. They became the Get Government Off My Back Party, the Leave Us Alone Coalition, the Drain the Swamp Party, the Don’t Tread on Me Party.

Philosophically you can embrace or detest this shift, but one thing is indisputable: It has been a legislative disaster. The Republican Party has not been able to pass a single important piece of domestic legislation under this philosophic rubric. Despite all the screaming and campaigns, all the government shutdown fiascos, the G.O.P. hasn’t been able to eliminate a single important program or reform a single important entitlement or agency.

Today, the G.O.P. is flirting with its most humiliating failure, the failure to pass a health reform bill, even though the party controls all the levers of power. Worse, Republicans have managed to destroy any semblance of a normal legislative process along the way.

There are many reasons Republicans have been failing as a governing party, but the primary one is intellectual. The freedom-as-detachment philosophy is a negative philosophy. It is about cutting back, not building.

A party operating under this philosophy is not going to spawn creative thinkers who come up with positive new ideas for how to help people. It’s not going to nurture policy entrepreneurs. It’s not going to respect ideas, period. This is not a party that’s going to produce a lot of modern-day versions of Jack Kemp.

Second, Republican voters may respond to the freedom-as-detachment rhetoric during campaigns. It feels satisfying to say that everything would be fine if only those stuck-up elites in Washington got out of the way. But operationally, most Republicans support freedom-as-capacity legislation.

If you’re a regular American, the main threat to your freedom is illness, family breakdown, social decay, technological disruption and globalization. If you’re being buffeted by massive forces beyond your control, you don’t want legislation that says: Guess what? You’re on your own!

The Republicans could have come up with a health bill that helps people cope with illness and nurtures their capacities, a bill that offers catastrophic care to the millions of American left out of Obamacare, or health savings accounts to encourage preventive care. Republicans could have been honest with the American people and said, “We’re proposing a bill that preserves Obamacare and tries to make it sustainable.” They could have touted some of the small reforms that are in fact buried in the Senate bill.

But this is the Drain the Swamp Party. The Republican centerpiece is: “We’re going to cut your Medicaid.”

So now we have a health care bill that everybody hates. It has a 17 percent approval rating. It has no sponsors, no hearings, no champions and no advocates. As usual, Republican legislators have got themselves into a position where they have to vote for a bill they all despise. And if you think G.O.P. dysfunction is bad now, wait until we get to the debt ceiling wrangle, the budget fight and the tax reform crackup.

Sure, Donald Trump is a boob, but that doesn’t explain why Republicans can’t govern from Capitol Hill. The answer is that we’re living at a time when the prospects for the middle class are in sharp decline. And Republicans offer nothing but negativity, detachment, absence and an ax.

And here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:

“It’s hard for Republicans to govern when their slogan is “Give us all of your money, because we would like to have it.” They don’t even say thank you. They’re having trouble passing health care reform because “You’ll be fine as long as you don’t get sick” is hard to package. It ranks right up there with “Vote for us, because you’re stupid.”

This last one plays remarkably well, given that it stuffed Congress full of Republicans and put a complete doofus in the White House.

When they’re not grubbing for money, they’re making national laws against things they find personally disgusting. “Gay people are icky” has been the driving force behind much of their legislation, second only to “Women’s plumbing confuses us.”

America’s infrastructure is due for an update. Not much has happened since FDR and the WPA, when the motto was something like “Building a stronger America.” I don’t want to say that Republicans have been neglectful in this regard, but now it’s “Walk gently across that bridge.”

They’re big fans of the Second Amendment, but somewhere along the way a directive to ensure a well-regulated militia became “Hold still, we want to shoot you.”

Some decry the fact that since the last election nothing seems to be getting done. Under the circumstances, I’d say that’s a very good thing. It’s why the Democrat’s new motto is, “Never again.””

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Is Trumpcare finally dead? Even now, it’s hard to be sure, especially given Republican moderates’ long track record of caving in to extremists at crucial moments. But it does look as if the frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act has failed.

And let’s be clear: The reason this assault failed wasn’t that Donald Trump did a poor selling job, or that Mitch McConnell mishandled the legislative strategy. Obamacare survived because it has worked — because it brought about a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance, and voters didn’t and don’t want to lose those gains.

Unfortunately, some of those gains will probably be lost all the same: The number of uninsured Americans is likely to tick up over the next few years. So it’s important to say clearly, in advance, why this is about to happen. It won’t be because the Affordable Care Act is failing; it will be the result of Trump administration sabotage.

Some background here: Even the A.C.A.’s supporters have always acknowledged that it’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg device. The simplest way to ensure that people have access to essential health care is for the government to pay their bills directly, the way Medicare does for older Americans. But in 2010, when the A.C.A. was enacted, Medicare for all was politically out of reach.

What we got instead was a system with a number of moving parts. It’s not as complex as all that — once you understand the basic concept of the “three-legged stool” of regulations, mandates and subsidies, you’ve got most of it. But it has more failure points than, say, Medicare or Social Security.

Notably, people aren’t automatically signed up for coverage, so it matters a lot whether the officials running the system try to make it work, reaching out to potential beneficiaries to ensure that they know what’s available, while reminding currently healthy Americans that they are still legally required to sign up for coverage.

You can see this dependence on good intentions by looking at how health reform has played out at the state level. States that embraced the law fully, like California and Kentucky, made great progress in reducing the number of the uninsured; states that dragged their feet, like Tennessee, benefited far less. Or consider the problem of counties served by only one insurer; as a recent study noted, this problem is almost entirely limited to states with Republican governors.

But now the federal government itself is run by people who couldn’t repeal Obamacare, but would clearly still like to see it fail — if only to justify the repeated, dishonest claims, especially by the tweeter in chief himself, that it was already failing. Or to put it a bit differently, when Trump threatens to “let Obamacare fail,” what he’s really threatening is to make it fail.

On Wednesday The Times reported on three ways the Trump administration is, in effect, sabotaging the A.C.A. (my term, not The Times’s). First, the administration is weakening enforcement of the requirement that healthy people buy coverage. Second, it’s letting states impose onerous rules like work requirements on people seeking Medicaid. Third, it has backed off on advertising and outreach designed to let people know about options for coverage.

Actually, it has done more than back off. As reported by The Daily Beast, the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted funds appropriated by law for “consumer information and outreach” and used them instead to finance a social media propaganda campaign against the law that H.H.S. is supposed to be administering — a move, by the way, of dubious legality. Meanwhile, the department’s website, which used to offer helpful links for people seeking insurance, now sends viewers to denunciations of the A.C.A.

And there may be worse to come: Insurance companies, which are required by law to limit out-of-pocket expenses of low-income customers, are already raising premiums sharply because they’re worried about a possible cutoff of the crucial federal “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that help them meet that requirement.

The truly amazing thing about these sabotage efforts is that they don’t serve any obvious purpose. They won’t save money — in fact, cutting off those subsidies, in particular, would probably end up costing taxpayers more money than keeping them. They’re unlikely to revive Trumpcare’s political prospects.

So this isn’t about policy, or even politics in the normal sense. It’s basically about spite: Trump and his allies may have suffered a humiliating political defeat, but at least they can make millions of other people suffer.

Can anything be done to protect Americans from this temper tantrum? In some cases, I believe, state governments can insulate their citizens from malfeasance at H.H.S. But the most important thing, surely, is to place the blame where it belongs. No, Mr. Trump, Obamacare isn’t failing; you are.

Blow and Krugman

July 17, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Savagely Mauls the Language,” and that listening to the president speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision.  Prof. Krugman, in “Republicans Leap Into the Awful Known,” says the terrible truth about their health plans isn’t debatable.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I know that there are things of graver consequence in Donald Trump’s regime than his diction, but as a person whose vocation concerns him with language, I am simply appalled by Trump’s savage mauling of that language.

His usage isn’t only idiosyncratic or some act of bungling idiocy, although it is surely both. But his usage is also a way of reducing language to the point that it is meaningless because the use of it is mindless, and in that compromised state, language becomes nearly worthless. As a consequence, truth becomes relative, if not altogether removed.

You see, Trump’s abuse of language isn’t simply a thing to blithely mock.

It is something with which we must all take great umbrage, because it has the power to degrade truth itself.

Yes, I could focus on the disastrous and callous Republican health care bill inching closer to a vote in the Senate.

Yes, I could use my energy and column inches to continue to catalog the thickening intrigue of the Russia investigation, and in particular, thegrowing number of people in the meeting where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer.

The revelations keep coming, although Trump Jr., in an exchange with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, promised that what we knew at that time was “everything” there was to know. Either there is a new definition of “everything” of which I’m unaware, or Trump Jr. is doing what the Trumps do: lie until there is no alternative but to tell the truth, and even then only reveal as much truth as circumstances compel.

Trying to draw the truth out of these people is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip — impossible.

I would submit that the Trumps lie in two ways: first, by directly and intentionally saying things they know well aren’t true, and second, by obfuscating with linguistic obtuseness, by overusing a nebulous relativism and by spouting an excess of superlatives to stand in for meaningful description and disclosure.

So, let’s take Trump’s responses during a press conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France last week. (By the way, that trip was marked by an embarrassingly pronounced inelegance by Trump, from the casual sexism of commenting on the French first lady’s bodyto the awkwardtestosterone-measuring handshakes.)

Trump has several verbal tics. One is that when he’s trying to flatter and finagle, everything is beautiful: countries, cities, people, bills, questions, even chocolate cake.

As The Washington Post pointed out last week:

“Beautiful” is one of President Trump’s favorite words. He’s used it at least 1,500 times on Twitter and in speeches since he began running for office, according to the database at Factbase. He uses it indiscriminately, the way a teenager might use ‘cool.’”

It is a device rather than a descriptor.

There was more: During the press conference with Macron, Trump twice referred to the 39-year-old Trump Jr. (who is the same age as the Macron, by the way) as a “young man.” That’s a stretch, but one used to make the Mini-Monster sound more innocent than his emails suggest he is.

At one point, Trump exclaimed: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” Actually, everyone who was awake in history class and reads books knows that. Alas, “a lot” is a relative term. More importantly, this is, I believe, projection, one of Trump’s compulsive traits. What he is guilty of is exactly what he accuses others of being guilty of. I would wager that Trump didn’t know that France was our oldest ally until preparing for this trip.

Trump complains endlessly about the media using anonymous sources, but Trump himself is addicted to anonymous sourcing, as demonstrated during the press conference. Trump discussed the Russian lawyer who met with his son:

“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”

Who is “somebody”? Why are you repeating something at an official press conference with another head of state in another country that you freely admit may be wrong? And if you admit that it may be wrong, how can you state declaratively that “she was here because of Lynch”?

Trump also seemed to crack the door on revisiting his hugely reckless withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, but then added, “But we will talk about that over the coming period of time.” What does that mean? It means nothing, is what it means. It means, “I’m saying things amenable to the French while I’m in France because I’m like a chameleon: a lizard who can adjust his appearance for his environment.” That “coming period of time” will never come.

Listening to Trump speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision. It’s as if he puts language through a meat grinder and what emerges is nearly unrecognizable, in either comprehension or certitude.

Covfefe.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Sometime in the next few days the Congressional Budget Office will release its analysis of the latest version of the Republican health care plan. Senator Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to prevent a full assessment, for example by trying to keep the C.B.O. from scoring the Cruz provision, which would let insurers discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, everyone expects a grim prognosis.

As a result, White House aides are already attacking the C.B.O.’s credibility, announcing in advance that whatever it says will be “fake news.” So why should we believe the budget office, not the Trump administration? Let me count the ways.

First, this White House already has a record of constant, blatant lying about health care that is, as far as I can tell, without precedent in modern history. Just a few days ago, for example, Vice President Mike Pence made the completely false assertion that Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid led to a cutback in aid for the disabled — a lie that the state’s government had already refuted. On Sunday, Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, claimed that the Senate bill would cover more people than current law — another blatant lie. (You can’t cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid and insurance subsidies and expect coverage to grow!)

The point is that on this issue (and others, of course), the Trump administration and its allies have negative credibility: If they say something, the default assumption should be that they’re lying.

Second, the C.B.O. is hardly alone in its negative assessments of Republican health care plans. In fact, just about every group with knowledge of the issue has reached similar conclusions. In a joint letter, the two major insurance industry trade groups blasted the Cruz provision as “simply unworkable.” The American Academy of Actuaries says basically the same thing. AARP has condemned the bill, as has the American Medical Association.

Third, contrary to White House disinformation, the C.B.O. actually did a pretty good job of predicting the effects of the Affordable Care Act, especially when you bear in mind that the act was a leap into the unknown: We had very little experience of how an A.C.A.-type system would work.

True, the C.B.O. overestimated the number of people who would buy insurance on the exchanges the act created; but that was partly because it overestimated the number of employers who would drop coverage and send their workers to those exchanges. Overall gains in coverage have been reasonably well in line with what the C.B.O. projected — especially in states that expanded Medicaid and did their best to make the law work.

Finally — and this seems to me to be the most compelling argument of all — predicting the effects of destroying the A.C.A. is much easier than predicting the consequences when it was enacted, because what the Senate bill would do, pretty much, is return us to the bad old days. Or to put it another way, what McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz are selling is a giant leap into the known, taking us back to a system whose flaws are all too familiar from recent experience.

After all, before Obamacare, most states had more or less unregulated insurance markets, similar to those the Senate bill would create. Many of these states also had skimpy, underfunded Medicaid programs, which would be the effect of the bill’s brutal Medicaid cuts.

So while careful, nonpartisan modeling, the kind the C.B.O. excels in, is important, you don’t need a detailed analysis to know what American health care would look like if this bill passes. Basically, it would look like pre-A.C.A. Texas, where 26 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured.

And lack of insurance wouldn’t be the only problem: Many people would have “junk insurance” — insurance with deductibles so large or coverage limitations so extensive as to be effectively useless when needed.

Now, some people might be satisfied with that outcome. Hard-core libertarians, for example, don’t believe making health care available to those who need it is a legitimate role of government; letting some citizens go bankrupt and/or die if they get sick is the price of freedom as they define it.

But Republicans have never made that case. Instead, at every stage of this political fight they have claimed to be doing exactly the opposite of what they’re actually doing: covering more people, making health care cheaper, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill spin here; we’re talking about black is white, up is down, dishonesty so raw it’s practically surreal. This isn’t just an assault on health care, it’s an assault on truth itself.

Will this vileness prevail? Your guess is as good as mine about whether Mitch McConnell will hold on to the 50 senators he needs. But the mere possibility that this much cruelty, wrapped in this much fraudulence, might pass is a horrifying indictment of his party.

And you can bet your last dime that when the shit hits the fan with this thing the Democrats will be blamed.  It’s how the Republicans and their base (which is truly base) roll.

Krugman, solo

July 14, 2017

In “The Cruelty and Fraudulence of Mitch McConnell’s Health Bill” Prof. Krugman says the latest Trumpcare bill still takes from the poor to give to the rich; it just does so with extra stealth.  Here he is:

A few days ago the tweeter in chief demanded that Congress enact “a beautiful new HealthCare bill” before it goes into recess. But now we’ve seen Mitch McConnell’s latest version of health “reform,” and “beautiful” is hardly the word for it. In fact, it’s surpassingly ugly, intellectually and morally. Previous iterations of Trumpcare were terrible, but this one is, incredibly, even worse.

Before I get to what makes it worse, let’s talk about the one piece of thenew bill that may sound like a step in the right direction, and why it’s largely a scam.

The original Senate bill got a lot of justified bad press for slashing Medicaid while offering big tax cuts for the rich. So this version rolls back some though by no means all of those tax cuts, which sounds like a concession to moderates.

At the same time, however, the bill would allow people to use tax-favored health savings accounts to pay insurance premiums. This effectively creates a big new tax shelter that mostly helps people with high incomes who (a) can afford to put a lot of money into such accounts and (b) face high marginal tax rates, and hence get big tax savings.

So this is still a bill that takes from the poor to give to the rich; it just does so with extra stealth.

Still, this tax shuffle does give McConnell a bit more money to play with. So how does he address the two big problems with the original bill — savage cuts to Medicaid and soaring premiums for older, less affluent workers? He doesn’t.

Aside from a few tweaks, those brutal Medicaid cuts are still part of the plan — and yes, they are cuts, despite desperate Republican attempts to pretend that they aren’t. The subsidy cuts that would send premiums soaring for millions are also still there.

The good stuff, such as it is, involves some new money for the opioid crisis, some (but not nearly enough) money for patients at especially high risk, and some additional aid for insurers — you know, the same thing Republicans denounced as outrageous corporate welfare when Democrats did it.

The most important change in the bill, however, is the way it would effectively gut protection for people with pre-existing medical conditions. The Affordable Care Act put minimum standards on the kinds of policies insurers were allowed to offer; the new Senate bill gives in to demands by Ted Cruz that insurers be allowed to offer skimpy plans that cover very little, with very high deductibles that would make them useless to most people.

The effects of this change would be disastrous. Don’t take my word for it: It’s what the insurers themselves say. In a special memo, AHIP, the insurance industry trade group, warned against adopting the Cruz proposal, which would “fracture and segment insurance markets into separate risk pools,” leading to “unstable health insurance markets” in which people with pre-existing conditions would lose coverage or have plans that were “far more expensive” than under Obamacare.

Or to put it another way, this bill would send insurance markets into a classic death spiral. Republicans have been predicting such a spiral for years, but keep being wrong: All indications are that Obamacare, despite having some real problems, is stabilizing, and doing pretty well in states that support it. But this bill would effectively sabotage all that progress.

And let’s be clear: Many of the victims of this sabotage would be members of the white working class, people who voted for Donald Trump in the belief that he really meant it when he promised that there would be no cuts to Medicaid and that everyone would get better, cheaper insurance. So why are Republican leaders pushing this? Why is there even a chance that it might become law?

The main answer, I’d argue, is that what would happen if this bill passes — a big decline in the number of Americans with health insurance, a sharp reduction in the quality of coverage for those who keep it — is what Republicans have wanted all along.

During the eight-year jihad against the Affordable Care Act, of course, the G.O.P. pretended otherwise: denouncing Obamacare for failing to cover everyone, attacking the high out-of-pocket expenses associated with many of its policies, and so on. But conservative ideology always denied the proposition that people are entitled to health care; the Republican elite considered and still considers people on Medicaid, in particular, “takers” who are effectively stealing from the deserving rich.

And the conservative view has always been that Americans have health insurance that is too good, that they should pay more in deductibles and co-pays, giving them “skin in the game,” and thus an incentive to control costs.

So what we’re seeing here is supposed to be the last act in a long con, the moment when the fraudsters cash in, and their victims discover how completely they’ve been fooled. The only question is whether they’ll really get away with it. We’ll find out very soon.

Blow and Krugman

July 10, 2017

In “Putin Meets His Progeny” Mr. Blow says Trump is full of lies and Putin is full of tricks. Who to believe?  The reasonable answer to that question is “None of them, Katie.”  Prof. Krugman says “Three Legs Good, No Legs Bad” and considers Obamacare versus the party of no ideas.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Team Trump wants us all to get over this annoying Russia thing and just move on. Sorry sir, not going to happen.

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man whose thumb was all over the scale that delivered Trump’s victory. It was like a father meeting his offspring. But was it their first meeting? Maybe, maybe not.

For years Trump claimed not only that he had met Putin, but also that the two men had a great relationship.

Then in July 2016 came the about-face. At a news conference, Trump said, “I never met Putin,” and “I don’t know who Putin is.” This, coincidentally, was the same news conference at which he encouraged Russia’s cyberattack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Thereafter, Trump would repeatedly deny meeting Putin or knowing him.

Clearly, Trump having a great relationship with Putin, and Trump not knowing Putin at all, cannot both be true.

I say this to remind you of something that you can never allow to become normal and never allow to become acceptable: Our “president” is a pathological liar. He lies about everything, all the time. Lying is his resting condition.

Therefore, absolutely nothing he or his team says is to be believed, ever.

With that in mind, we are told by Rex Tillerson, our secretary of state and the man upon whom Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship, that Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” and that Trump repeatedly “pressed” Putin on the issue, and of course Putin denied, again, Russian involvement.

The Russians say Trump accepted Putin’s denial, although the White House denied that account. Trump is full of lies and Putin is full of tricks. Who to believe?

Tillerson’s telling gives pause.

When asked if Trump spelled out consequences Russia would face for their attack on our election, Tillerson said Trump and Putin focused on “how do we move forward” because “it’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed-upon resolution of that question between the two nations.” At another point, Tillerson said Trump and Putin agreed to establish a working-level group “around the cyber issue and this issue of non-interference.”

This is also outrageous. I didn’t get the sense that Trump strongly asserted as fact that Russia attacked our elections or that Trump would seek to punish Russia. The readout tells the opposite story, one of Russia being let off the hook. And this whole business of setting up a cybersecurity working group with the Russians is like inviting the burglar to help you design your alarm system.

In a Twitter tirade Sunday morning, Trump wrote: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion. …”

But Trump’s opinion, as expressed the day before his meeting with Putin, was that the source of the attack was something of an open question. At a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, Trump said: “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries.”

This is a slap in the face to our intelligence community that has unanimously rendered their verdict: It was Russia!

Trump continued on Twitter: “…We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”

No, sir, this is not the time to “move forward” with Russia, but rather time to “move forward” against it.

Last week, CNN reported that “Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts in the U.S., according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who say they have noticed an increase since the election.”

CNN continued: “The officials say they believe one of the biggest U.S. adversaries feels emboldened by the lack of a significant retaliatory response from both the Trump and Obama administrations.”

And on Saturday, The New York Times reported on another undisclosed meeting between members of Trump’s campaign and people connected to the Kremlin, writing:

“Two weeks after Donald J. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.”

The Times continued: “The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul J. Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.” The Times pointed out that the meeting “is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle during the campaign.”

America is under sustained, possibly even accelerated, attack by a foreign power, the same one that attacked our election, and Trump not only wavers on the source of the attack, but also refuses to condemn the culprit and in fact has a penchant for praising him. This whole thing stinks to high heaven, and we must press on until we uncover the source of the rot.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will 50 Republican senators be willing to inflict grievous harm on their constituents in the name of party loyalty? I have no idea.

But this seems like a good moment to review why Republicans can’t come up with a non-disastrous alternative to Obamacare. It’s not because they’re stupid (although they have become stunningly anti-intellectual). It’s because you can’t change any major element of the Affordable Care Act without destroying the whole thing.

Suppose you want to make health coverage available to everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions. Most of the health economists I know would love to see single-payer — Medicare for all. Realistically, however, that’s too heavy a lift for the time being.

For one thing, the insurance industry would not take kindly to being eliminated, and has a lot of clout. Also, a switch to single-payer would require a large tax increase. Most people would gain more from the elimination of insurance premiums than they would lose from the tax hike, but that would be a hard case to make in an election campaign.

Beyond that, most Americans under 65 are covered by their employers, and are reasonably happy with that coverage. They would understandably be nervous about any proposal to replace that coverage with something else, no matter how truthfully you assured them that the replacement would be better.

So the Affordable Care Act went for incrementalism — the so-called three-legged stool.

It starts by requiring that insurers offer the same plans, at the same prices, to everyone, regardless of medical history. This deals with the problem of pre-existing conditions. On its own, however, this would lead to a “death spiral”: healthy people would wait until they got sick to sign up, so those who did sign up would be relatively unhealthy, driving up premiums, which would in turn drive out more healthy people, and so on.

So insurance regulation has to be accompanied by the individual mandate, a requirement that people sign up for insurance, even if they’re currently healthy. And the insurance must meet minimum standards: Buying a cheap policy that barely covers anything is functionally the same as not buying insurance at all.

But what if people can’t afford insurance? The third leg of the stool is subsidies that limit the cost for those with lower incomes. For those with the lowest incomes, the subsidy is 100 percent, and takes the form of an expansion of Medicaid.

The key point is that all three legs of this stool are necessary. Take away any one of them, and the program can’t work.

But does it work even with all three legs? Yes.

To understand what’s happened with the A.C.A. so far, you need to realize that as written (and interpreted by the Supreme Court), the law’s functioning depends on lot on cooperation from state governments. And where states have in fact cooperated, expanding Medicaid, operating their own insurance exchanges, and promoting both enrollment and competition among insurers, it has worked pretty darn well.

Compare, for example, the experience of Kentucky and its neighbor Tennessee. In 2013, before full implementation of the A.C.A., Tennessee had slightly fewer uninsured, 13 percent versus 14 percent. But by 2015Kentucky, which implemented the law in full, had cut its uninsured rate to just 6 percent, while Tennessee was at 11.

Or consider the problem of counties with only one (or no) insurer, meaning no competition. As one recent study points out, this is almost entirely a red-state problem. In states with G.O.P. governors, 21 percent of the population lives in such counties; in Democratic-governor states, less than 2 percent.

So Obamacare is, though nobody will believe it, a well-thought-out law that works where states want it to work. It could and should be made to work better, but Republicans show no interest in making that happen. Instead, all their ideas involve sawing off one or more legs of that three-legged stool.

First, they’re dead set on repealing the individual mandate, which is unpopular with healthy people but essential to making the system work for those who need it.

Second, they’re determined to slash subsidies — including making savage cuts to Medicaid — in order to free up money that they can use to cut taxes on the wealthy. The result would be a drastic rise in net premiums for most families.

Finally, we’re now hearing a lot about the Cruz amendment, which would let insurers offer bare-bones plans with minimal coverage and high deductibles. These would be useless to people with pre-existing conditions, who would find themselves segregated into a high-cost market — effectively sawing off the third leg of the stool.

So which parts of their plan would Republicans have to abandon to avoid a huge rise in the number of uninsured? The answer is, all of them.

After all these years of denouncing Obamacare, then, Republicans have no idea how to do better. Or, actually, they have no ideas at all.

Brooks and Krugman

July 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, all that went away with the smartphone.

And now here’s what “DH” has to say:

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

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

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Krugman

July 3, 2017

In “The Hijacked American Presidency” Mr. Blow says a madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.  Prof. Krugman, in “Oh! What a Lovely Trade War!,” says hey, let’s do something stupid to please the base.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Every now and then we are going to have to do this: Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity. Trump himself is the offense. Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every staffer who shields him, every legislator who defends him, is an offense. Every partisan who uses him — against all he or she has ever claimed to champion — to advance a political agenda and, in so doing, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the institution of the presidency. Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.

Last week, when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast. The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked. His tweet was just another pebble on a mountain of vulgarities. This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity. Trump was being Trump: the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency. We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump. His fate is their fate. They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim — rightly or not. If Trump goes down, they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king. A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it. It is what it is and has been from day one: The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.

We must say without ceasing, and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged. We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance. We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced, in ways we cannot calculate, by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting power to which he may only have access because a foreign power hostile to our interests wanted him installed. We must remember that he has not only praised that foreign power, he has proven mysteriously averse to condemning it or even acknowledging its meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election — including a criminal investigation — and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news. These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing list of states publicly refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt.”

But in fact the commission itself is the political stunt. The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist. Trump simply lied when he said that he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes. And then he established this bogus commission — using taxpayer money — to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie that he should never have told.

This commission is classic Trump projection: There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is instead tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week, CNN reported:

“The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the president is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.”

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue. He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics. He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass. Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Donald Trump declared that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”? It was a rare moment of self-awareness for the tweeter-in-chief: He may, briefly, have realized that he had no idea what he was doing.

Actually, though, health care isn’t all that complicated. And Republican “reform” plans are brutally simple — with the emphasis on “brutally.”

Trump may be the only person in Washington who doesn’t grasp their essence: Take health insurance away from tens of millions so you can give the rich a tax cut.

Some policy subjects, on the other hand, really are complicated. One of these subjects is international trade. And the great danger here isn’t simply that Trump doesn’t understand the issues. Worse, he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

According to the news site Axios, Trump, supported by his inner circle of America Firsters, is “hell-bent” on imposing punitive tariffs on imports of steel and possibly other products, despite opposition from most of his cabinet. After all, claims that other countries are taking advantage of America were a central theme of his campaign.

And Axios reports that the White House believes that Trump’s base “likes the idea” of a trade war, and “will love the fight.”

Yep, that’s a great way to make policy.

O.K., so what’s complicated about trade policy?

First, a lot of modern trade is in intermediate goods — stuff that is used to make other stuff. A tariff on steel helps steel producers, but it hurts downstream steel consumers like the auto industry. So even the direct impact of protectionism on jobs is unclear.

Then there are the indirect effects, which mean that any job gains in an industry protected by tariffs must be compared with job losses elsewhere. Normally, in fact, trade and trade policy have little if any effect on total employment. They affect what kinds of jobs we have; but the total number, not so much.

Suppose that Trump were to impose tariffs on a wide range of goods — say, the 10 percent across-the-board tariff that was floated before he took office. This would directly benefit industries that compete with imports, but that’s not the end of the story.

Even if we ignore the damage to industries that use imported inputs, any direct job creation from new tariffs would be offset by indirect job destruction. The Federal Reserve, fearing inflationary pressure, would raise interest rates. This would squeeze sectors like housing; it would also strengthen the dollar, hurting U.S. exports.

Claims that protectionism would inevitably cause a recession are overblown, but there’s every reason to believe that these indirect effects would eliminate any net job creation.

Then there’s the response of other countries. International trade is governed by rules — rules America helped put in place. If we start breaking those rules, others will too, both in retaliation and in simple emulation. That’s what people mean when they talk about a trade war.

And it’s foolish to imagine that America would “win” such a war. For one thing, we are far from being a dominant superpower in world trade — the European Union is just as big a player, and capable of effective retaliation (as the Bush administration learned when it put tariffs on steel back in 2002). Anyway, trade isn’t about winning and losing: it generally makes both sides of the deal richer, and a trade war usually hurts all the countries involved.

I’m not making a purist case for free trade here. Rapid growth in globalization has hurt some American workers, and an import surge after 2000 disrupted industries and communities. But a Trumpist trade war would only exacerbate the damage, for a couple of reasons.

One is that globalization has already happened, and U.S. industries are now embedded in a web of international transactions. So a trade war would disrupt communities the same way that rising trade did in the past. There’s an old joke about a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — running over the victim a second time. Trumpist trade policy would be like that.

Also, the tariffs now being proposed would boost capital-intensive industries that employ relatively few workers per dollar of sales; these tariffs would, if anything, further tilt the distribution of income against labor.

So will Trump actually go through with this? He might. After all, he posed as a populist during the campaign, but his entire economic agenda so far has been standard Republican fare, rewarding corporations and the rich while hurting workers.

So the base might indeed like to see something that sounds more like the guy they thought they were voting for.

But Trump’s promises on trade, while unorthodox, were just as fraudulent as his promises on health care. In this area, as in, well, everything, he has no idea what he’s talking about. And his ignorance-based policy won’t end well.

Brooks, Krugman, and Collins

June 30, 2017

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

Here’s Bobo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m for tuner equality, personally.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here’s Ms. Collins:

I have to confess I’ve overestimated Donald Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Krugman

June 19, 2017

In “Trump Is Girding for a Fight” Mr. Blow says Trump and team are attempting to defame and delegitimize the Russia investigation.  Prof. Krugman considers “Zombies, Vampires and Republicans” and when Trump is just an ignorant bystander.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his widening investigation seems to be closing in on Donald Trump and his coterie of corruption, but Trump and his emissaries aren’t sitting idly by. They’re girding for a fight.

Last week The Washington Post, citing unnamed officials, reported that Mueller was widening his investigation to include “an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.”

This set Trump off. As the sun rose on Thursday morning, he posted the first of what would be a daylong barrage of statements on Twitter, attacking the “phony story”; later he lamented “crooked H” and “Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia.”

But that wasn’t enough.

He started up again Friday morning, this time posting: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.”

This seemed like an acknowledgment that he was indeed under investigation. But on Sunday, the Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made the talk show rounds to insist that what the president wrote was not what the president meant. Sekulow stated emphatically, “The fact of the matter is the president has not been and is not under investigation.”

Whatever the truth may be, Trump is certainly behaving like a man who is under scrutiny and like one who is determined to defend himself every step of the way.

Last week it was reported that Mueller hired more than a dozen lawyers for his team, but as soon as he did, they came under attack by Trump cronies like Newt Gingrich. On Sunday on ABC, Gingrich issued a blistering attack on some of the lawyers Mueller has hired, suggesting Mueller stacked the deck with Democratic mercenaries out to get the president for political reasons.

At one point in the interview, Gingrich claimed:

“You tell me why the first four names that came up, I don’t know about the next nine, the first four names are all people who gave to Democrats. Two of them are people with a record of hiding evidence from the defense. And one of them is a person who defended the Clinton Foundation. Now in this environment with a Justice Department where 97 percent of the donations last year went to Hillary, 97 percent, explain to me why I should relax as a Republican.”

This was a stinging about-face from when Gingrich praised Mueller when he was selected. Host Martha Raddatz pointed this out: “In May you said he was a superb choice for special counsel with an impeccable reputation for honesty. Less than a month later, you say he won’t be fair.”

But that’s the thing with Trump and his hangers-on: They will say and do anything, even if it directly contradicts what they said or did moments earlier. This is how truth becomes degraded: by being casually disregarded.

This investigation is in the early stages, but Trump has no plans to wait for it to either condemn or clear him. He is taking a much more aggressive approach, one that in the end may do more harm than good.

He is attempting to defame, discredit and delegitimize.

Trump knows that whether anything from this investigation sees the light of day in a court of law, the investigation is already being litigated in the court of public opinion. In that court, he’s already guilty.

Trump’s public petulance about being mistreated is in fact a public appeal, in order to rehabilitate his brand.

If a legal case against Trump is born of this investigation, Trump is no stranger to a courtroom.

As USA Today reported last year, Trump has been involved in over 3,500 legal matters, which was an unprecedented number for an American presidential nominee.

Trump often prevails. As USA Today put it: “Among those cases with a clear resolution, Trump’s side was the apparent victor in 451 and the loser in 38. In about 500 cases, judges dismissed plaintiffs’ claims against Trump.”

Trump knows that the law can be fuzzy and the legal system pliable, bending in particular under the weight of massive resources like money.

Fighting has worked well for Trump. He knows that one of the critical flaws in American jurisprudence is that it too often favors fight over right.

So Trump will fight this investigation that he calls a “witch hunt,” because he realizes that it is a sprawling inquiry, potentially ending up far afield from where it started.

Mueller is not in search of a conjurer but a culprit, and he’ll shine a light in every dark corner to find one.

Gingrich told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Friday of the investigation:

“They’re going to get somebody. I don’t think they’re going to get the president, but they’re going to get somebody, and they’re going to get him for something. And they’re probably going to go to jail.”

I agree: When federal investigators start looking for something, they often find something. I’m not removing the president so quickly from jeopardy.

The president and his White House are going to fight this tooth and nail, but in the end “someone is probably going to go to jail.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Zombies have long ruled the Republican Party. The good news is that they may finally be losing their grip — although they may still return and resume eating conservative brains. The bad news is that even if zombies are in retreat, vampires are taking their place.

What are these zombies of which I speak? Among wonks, the term refers to policy ideas that should have been abandoned long ago in the face of evidence and experience, but just keep shambling along.

The right’s zombie-in-chief is the insistence that low taxes on the rich are the key to prosperity. This doctrine should have died when Bill Clinton’s tax hike failed to cause the predicted recession and was followed instead by an economic boom. It should have died again when George W. Bush’s tax cuts were followed by lackluster growth, then a crash. And it should have died yet again in the aftermath of the 2013 Obama tax hike — partly expiration of some Bush tax cuts, partly new taxes to pay for Obamacare — when the economy continued jogging along, adding 200,000 jobs a month.

Despite the consistent wrongness of their predictions, however, tax-cut fanatics just kept gaining influence in the G.O.P. — until the disaster in Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback promised that deep tax cuts would yield an economic miracle. What the state got instead was weak growth and a fiscal crisis, finally pushing even Republicans to vote for tax hikes, overruling Brownback’s veto.

Will this banish the tax-cut zombie? Maybe — although the economists behind the Kansas debacle, who have of course learned nothing, appear to be the principal movers behind the Trump tax plan, such as it is.

But even as the zombies move offstage, vampire policies — so-called not so much because of their bloodsucking nature, although that too, as because they can’t survive daylight — have taken their place.

Consider what’s happening right now on health care.

Last month House Republicans rammed through one of the worst, cruelest pieces of legislation in history. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the American Health Care Act would take coverage away from 23 million Americans, and send premiums soaring for millions more, especially older workers with relatively low incomes.

This bill is, as it should be, wildly unpopular. Nonetheless, Republican Senate leaders are now trying to ram through their own version of the A.H.C.A., one that, all reports suggest, will differ only in minor, cosmetic ways. And they’re trying to do it in total secrecy. It appears that there won’t be any committee hearings before the bill goes to the floor. Nor are senators receiving draft text, or anything beyond a skeletal outline. Some have reportedly seen PowerPoint presentations, but the “slides are flashed across the screens so quickly that they can hardly be committed to memory.”

Clearly, the goal is to pass legislation that will have devastating effects on tens of millions of Americans without giving those expected to pass it, let alone the general public, any real chance to understand what they’re voting for. There are even suggestions that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, might exploit loopholes in the rules to prevent any discussion on the Senate floor.

Why this combination of secrecy and speed? Obviously, this legislation can’t survive sunlight — and I’m by no means the first to make the analogy with vampires.

This is unprecedented. Ignore Republican lies about how Obamacare was passed: the Affordable Care Act went through extensive discussion, and Democrats were always very clear about what they were trying to do and how they were trying to do it.

When it comes to the Republican replacement for Obamacare, however, it’s not just the process that’s secretive; so is the purpose. Vox.com asked eight Republican senators what problem the legislation is supposed to solve, and how it’s supposed to solve it. Not one offered a coherent answer.

Of course, none brought up the one obvious payoff to taking health care away from millions: a big tax cut for the wealthy. As I said, while bloodsucking isn’t the main reason to call this a vampire policy, it’s part of the picture.

Oh, and one more point: What’s going down isn’t just unprecedented, it’s unpresidented. You can blame Donald Trump for many things, including the fact that he will surely sign whatever bad bill is put in front of him. But as far as health care is concerned, he’s just an ignorant bystander, who all evidence suggests has little if any idea what’s actually in Trumpcare. Maybe he’s too busy yelling at his TV to find out.

So this isn’t a Trump story; it’s about the cynicism and corruption of the whole congressional G.O.P. Remember, it would take just a few conservatives with conscience — specifically, three Republican senators — to stop this outrage in its tracks. But right now, it looks as if those principled Republicans don’t exist.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

June 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comey has moved the pendulum. Trump is vulnerable.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Krugman

June 5, 2017

In “Trump’s Incredible Shrinking America” Mr. Blow says pulling out of the Paris climate accord is hazardous and shortsighted.  Prof. Krugman, in “Making Ignorance Great Again,” says climate is a casualty in the war on truth.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

My whole life I have taken for granted America’s leadership in the world. America’s might and majesty were cornerstones of international relations, cooperation and diplomacy. We were a beacon and balance to the world. America has been imperfect — sometimes disastrously so — but it always seemed to me bent toward the belief that America and the world could be made more perfect.

Well, that time has come to a close. America is exiting the world stage. Donald Trump is drawing the curtains.

On Trump’s first full weekday in office, he, and thus America, abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As The New York Times reported it:

“President Trump upended America’s traditional, bipartisan trade policy on Monday as he formally abandoned the ambitious, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership brokered by his predecessor and declared an end to the era of multinational trade agreements that defined global economics for decades.”

Trump has had, and continues to have, an unhealthy and inexplicable admiration for the world’s strongmen, dictators and authoritarian regimes — Russia and Vladimir Putin stand out among the rest — while simultaneously chiding and chastising America’s traditional allies and those countries’ leaders.

From the way Trump has treated America’s neighbors — Mexico about immigrants and the financing of his ridiculous wall, Canada over trade practices on energy, lumber and dairy (he called policies surrounding dairy trade “a disgrace”) — to the way he has treated our friends in Europe, Trump is singlehandedly ushering in a new era of American decline.

Last month in Europe, Trump was as boorish and belligerent as it was possible to be, lashing out at our NATO allies about their defense spending just after having been gracious and magnanimous to leaders in the Middle East.

Then last week Trump thumbed his nose at the world and the planet by announcing that he would pull America out of the Paris climate accord, even though a Yale survey found the agreement was popular and a majority of Americans in every state — including those that Trump won — wanted the United States to stay in the agreement.

But even beyond whether or not it was popular, staying in was right. More than 190 countries — most of the countries on the planet — are signatories to the agreement. We have one planet. It is in trouble. The world must band together to save it. How does it look for the world’s last remaining superpower to simply walk away?

This is not putting America first, this is putting America on a path of regression and isolationism. This is putting our future and the future of the planet in peril. This is dumb, hazardous and shortsighted.

Trump justified his move using faulty information, citing issues that are not even in the agreement and flat-out lying. What else is new? Perhaps his most memorable line from his speech about the withdrawal was:

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris. I promised I would exit or renegotiate any deal which fails to serve America’s interests.”

The problem is that, as PolitiFact pointed out:

“Clinton won almost 60 percent of the vote in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. The percentage was even higher in many precincts within the city of Pittsburgh itself. (Allegheny County includes a range of suburbs in addition to the city.)”

Indeed, the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, told CNN after the speech: “The city of Pittsburgh voted for Hillary Clinton with nearly 80 percent of the vote.” Later on CNN, Peduto was asked if he had a message for Trump. Peduto responded: “What you did was not only bad for the economy of this country, but also weakened America in this world.”

In fact, mayors, governors and business leaders across the country were quick to rebuke Trump’s horrendous decision and to dedicate themselves to the spirit of the agreement.

Then, for me, the icing on the cake was Trump’s absolute lack of grace and tact in his response to the London terror attacks over the weekend. His first response was not to express his horror and extend America’s condolences and offer American assistance. No, that would have required that he possess a shred of empathy and common decency.

Instead, his first instinct was to use the attacks as political fodder to advance his own failed domestic agenda to impose a “travel ban.”

Shortly after the attacks, while people were still trying to get their minds around what exactly had happened in London, Trump tweeted:

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

(Note that Trump again calls it a “ban,” although White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who retweeted this message, scolded the media in January for calling Trump’s ban a ban, saying: “This is not a Muslim ban, it’s not a travel ban, it’s a vetting system to keep America safe.” Trump is killing himself in the courts with his own words.)

Trump is pulling America back and pulling America down. We are now witnessing the incredible shrinking America, and it’s a sad sight to behold.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump just took us out of the Paris climate accord for no good reason. I don’t mean that his decision was wrong. I mean, literally, that he didn’t offer any substantive justification for that decision. Oh, he threw around a few numbers about supposed job losses, but nobody believes that he knows or cares where those numbers came from. It was just what he felt like doing.

And here’s the thing: What just happened on climate isn’t an unusual case — and Trump isn’t especially unusual for a modern Republican. For today’s G.O.P. doesn’t do substance; it doesn’t assemble evidence, or do analysis to formulate or even to justify its policy positions. Facts and hard thinking aren’t wanted, and anyone who tries to bring such things into the discussion is the enemy.

Consider another huge policy area, health care. How was Trumpcare put together? Did the administration and its allies consult with experts, study previous experience with health reform, and try to devise a plan that made sense? Of course not. In fact, House leaders made a point of ramming a bill through before the Congressional Budget Office, or for that matter anyone else, could assess its likely impact.

When the budget office did weigh in, its conclusions were what you might expect: If you make huge cuts in Medicaid and reduce subsidies for private insurance — all so you can cut taxes on the wealthy — a lot of people are going to lose coverage. Is 23 million a good estimate of those losses? Yes — it might be 18 million, or it might be 28 million, but surely it would be in that range.

So how did the administration respond? By trying to shoot the messenger. Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, attacked the C.B.O., declaring that it did a “miserable” job of forecasting the effects of Obamacare. (It got some things wrong, but overall did pretty well.) He also accused the office — headed by a former Bush administration economist chosen by Republicans — of political bias, and smeared its top health expert in particular.

So, Mr. Mulvaney, where’s your assessment of Trumpcare? You had plenty of resources to do your own study before trying to pass a bill. What did you find? (Actually, the White House did do an internal analysis of an earlier version of Trumpcare, which was leaked to Politico. Its predictions were even more dire than those from the C.B.O.)

But Mulvaney and his party don’t study issues, they just decide, and attack the motives of anyone who questions their decisions.

Which brings us back to climate policy.

On climate change, influential conservatives have for years clung to what is basically a crazy conspiracy theory — that the overwhelming scientific consensus that the earth is warming due to greenhouse-gas emissions is a hoax, somehow coordinated by thousands of researchers around the world. And at this point this is effectively the mainstream Republican position.

Do G.O.P. leaders really think this conspiracy theory is true? The answer, surely, is that they don’t care. Truth, as something that exists apart from and in possible opposition to political convenience, is no longer part of their philosophical universe.

The same goes for claims that trying to rein in emissions will do terrible economic damage and destroy millions of jobs. Such claims are, if you think about it, completely inconsistent with everything Republicans supposedly believe about economics.

After all, they insist that the private sector is infinitely flexible and innovative; the magic of the marketplace can solve all problems. But then they claim that these magical markets would roll over and die if we put a modest price on carbon emissions, which is basically what climate policy would do. This doesn’t make any sense — but it’s not supposed to. Republicans want to keep burning coal, and they’ll say whatever helps produce that outcome.

And as health care and climate go, so goes everything else. Can you think of any major policy area where the G.O.P. hasn’t gone post-truth? Take budgeting, where leaders like Paul Ryan have always justified tax cuts for the rich by claiming the ability to conjure up trillions in extra revenue and savings in some unspecified way. The Trump-Mulvaney budget, which not only pulls $2 trillion out of thin air but counts it twice, takes the game to a new level, but it’s not that much of a departure.

But does any of it matter? The president, backed by his party, is talking nonsense, destroying American credibility day by day. But hey, stocks are up, so what’s the problem?

Well, bear in mind that so far Trump hasn’t faced a single crisis not of his own making. As George Orwell noted many years ago in his essay “In Front of Your Nose,” people can indeed talk nonsense for a very long time, without paying an obvious price. But “sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.” Now there’s a happy thought.