Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Blow and Krugman

January 16, 2017

In “John’s Gospel of Trump’s Illegitimacy” Mr. Blow says a lecher attacked a legend when Donald Trump tweeted an attack on John Lewis.  Prof. Krugman, in “With All Due Disrespect,” presents the patriotic case for frankness about a tainted election.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Friday, the Georgia congressman, civil rights icon and Donald Trump inauguration-boycotter John Lewis told NBC’s Chuck Todd something that I believe millions of Americans are thinking.

“I don’t see this president-elect as a legitimate president,” Lewis said. “I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected. And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.”

The release of the clip in which Lewis made his stark assessment came on the same day that the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and other intelligence officials provided a classified briefing to members of the House, no doubt divulging information to which we mere mortals are not privy. After the meeting, Representative Maxine Waters of California blasted: “It’s classified and we can’t tell you anything. All I can tell you is the F.B.I. director has no credibility!”

It would be easy to simply claim that emotions are running high or that partisan pain is abnormally acute. But I continue to argue, strenuously and adamantly, that to simply see the extraordinary events unfolding before us as purely ideological blinds us to the very real concern that our sovereignty has been compromised.

Trump, the president-elect tweet stormer, couldn’t let this go, particularly Lewis’s assessment.

Early on Saturday morning, Trump shot back at Lewis in possibly one of the most ill-advised political social media moments I can recall, publishing two tweets that together read: “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Stop and think about what you just read: A lecher attacking a legend; a man of moral depravity attacking a man of moral certitude; an intellectual weakling attacking a warrior for justice. This on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, no less.

Trump attacks Lewis as, “All talk, talk, talk — no action”; Lewis, who repeatedly thrust his body unto the breach for justice, who was arrested, beaten and terrorized, including during the time that young Trump was at his well-heeled schools, receiving draft deferments from the Vietnam War.

In fact, one of Trump’s five deferments was in 1965, the same year as the Selma marches and “Bloody Sunday,” during which Lewis was struck so violently by a state trooper wielding a billy club that Lewis’s skull was fractured.

Coincidentally, Trump finally received his permanent exemption from the draft, a 4-F status, in the year before he and his father were sued by the Department of Justice for violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — one of the many justice issues Lewis championed.

As The New York Times noted at the time: “The government contended that Trump Management had refused to rent or negotiate rentals ‘because of race and color.’ It also charged that the company had required different rental terms and conditions because of race and that it had misrepresented to blacks that apartments were not available.”

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump doesn’t even deserve to stand in John Lewis’s shadow. The spectacular obscenity of Trump’s comment is incomparable and deeply repulsive.

And furthermore, I don’t find what Lewis said about Trump’s illegitimacy to be outrageous, or off the mark in the least.

I guess for me, it comes down to a rather profound semantic question: Does ‘legitimate’ refer here to the meaning in law or principle?

It is true that Donald Trump is, by all measures of the law, the legitimate president-elect and will legitimately be inaugurated our 45th president on Friday, no matter how much it pains me to write that or pains you to read it. There simply is no constitutional or statutory mechanism to nullify the installation of an elected president based on election influencing, even by a hostile state actor. The framers of the Constitution had no way of anticipating digital warfare being used in a propaganda attack. The Constitution was ratified before electric lights were invented.

But there is another way of considering legitimacy, another test that his election doesn’t meet: That is when legitimacy is defined as “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.”

Here, Lewis and his fellow believers are on solid footing. Trump has bucked our conventions; his life is rife with percolating conflicts; Comey outrageously threw a wrench in the works with his meaningless, last-minute letter about Clinton’s email (which is now, quite rightly, being investigated); and the intelligence community has determined with high confidence that Russia interfered in our election in an effort to hurt Clinton and help Trump, their desired candidate.

The only thing of burning significance left to know is whether there was any collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign and whether there are any other unknown connections between those two entities.

Mr. Trump, I join John Lewis in asserting with full confidence and clear conscience that I, too, don’t see you as a legitimate president. Your presidency is illegitimate insofar as outside interference in an election violates our standards and principles. You will wear that scarlet “I” on your tan chest for as long as you sit in the White House.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

As a young man, Congressman John Lewis, who represents most of Atlanta, literally put his life on the line in pursuit of justice. As a key civil rights leader, he endured multiple beatings. Most famously, he led the demonstration that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, suffering a fractured skull at the hands of state troopers. Public outrage over that day’s violence helped lead to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act.

Now Mr. Lewis says that he won’t attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, whom he regards as an illegitimate president.

As you might expect, this statement provoked a hysterical, slanderous reaction from the president-elect – who, of course, got his start in national politics by repeatedly, falsely questioning President Obama’s right to hold office. But Mr. Trump — who has never sacrificed anything or taken a risk to help others — seems to have a special animus toward genuine heroes. Maybe he prefers demonstrators who don’t get beaten?

But let’s not talk about Mr. Trump’s ravings. Instead, let’s ask whether Mr. Lewis was right to say what he said. Is it O.K., morally and politically, to declare the man about to move into the White House illegitimate?

Yes, it is. In fact, it’s an act of patriotism.

By any reasonable standard, the 2016 election was deeply tainted. It wasn’t just the effects of Russian intervention on Mr. Trump’s behalf; Hillary Clinton would almost surely have won if the F.B.I. hadn’t conveyed the false impression that it had damaging new information about her, just days before the vote. This was grotesque, delegitimizing malfeasance, especially in contrast with the agency’s refusal to discuss the Russia connection.

Was there even more to it? Did the Trump campaign actively coordinate with a foreign power? Did a cabal within the F.B.I. deliberately slow-walk investigations into that possibility? Are the lurid tales about adventures in Moscow true? We don’t know, although Mr. Trump’s creepy obsequiousness to Vladimir Putin makes it hard to dismiss these allegations. Even given what we do know, however, no previous U.S. president-elect has had less right to the title. So why shouldn’t we question his legitimacy?

And talking frankly about how Mr. Trump gained power isn’t just about truth-telling. It may also help to limit that power.

It would be one thing if the incoming commander in chief showed any hint of humility, of realizing that his duty to the nation requires showing some respect for the strong majority of Americans who voted against him despite Russian meddling and the F.B.I.’s disinformation dump. But he hasn’t and won’t.

Instead, he’s lashing out at and threatening anyone and everyone who criticizes him, while refusing even to admit that he lost the popular vote. And he’s surrounding himself with people who share his contempt for everything that is best in America. What we’re looking at, all too obviously, is an American kakistocracy — rule by the worst.

What can restrain this rule? Well, Congress still has a lot of power to rein the president in. And it would be nice to imagine that there are enough public-spirited legislators to play that role. In particular, just three Republican senators with consciences could do a lot to protect American values.

But Congress will be much more likely to stand up to a rogue, would-be authoritarian executive if its members realize that they will face a political price if they act as his enablers.

What this means is that Mr. Trump must not be treated with personal deference simply because of the position he has managed to seize. He must not be granted the use of the White House as a bully pulpit. He must not be allowed to cloak himself in the majesty of office. Given what we know about this guy’s character, it’s all too clear that granting him unearned respect will just empower him to behave badly.

And reminding people how he got where he is will be an important tool in preventing him from gaining respect he doesn’t deserve. Remember, saying that the election was tainted isn’t a smear or a wild conspiracy theory; it’s simply the truth.

Now, anyone questioning Mr. Trump’s legitimacy will be accused of being unpatriotic — because that’s what people on the right always say about anyone who criticizes a Republican president. (Strangely, they don’t say this about attacks on Democratic presidents.) But patriotism means standing up for your country’s values, not pledging personal allegiance to Dear Leader.

No, we shouldn’t get into the habit of delegitimizing election results we don’t like. But this time really is exceptional, and needs to be treated that way.

So let’s be thankful that John Lewis had the courage to speak out. It was the patriotic, heroic thing to do. And America needs that kind of heroism, now more than ever.

Brooks and Krugman

January 13, 2017

This is lovely.  Both Bobo and Prof. Krugman have addressed the same problem today.  And Bobo thinks he has a thing or two to say about the economics of health care…  He asks “Do Markets Work in Health Care?” and says that there’s psychology as well as economics in a consumer-based system.  “Gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Prof. Krugman, who actually KNOWS a thing or three about economics, addresses “Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions” and says magical thinking won’t work on health care.  Here’s Bobo:

Believe it or not, we’re not really going to have to spend the next four years wading through wonky drudgery of Russian spy dossiers and hotel sex cameras. At some point we’re going to have a thrilling debate over the most scintillating question in health care policy.

The Republicans are going to try to replace Obamacare. They’re probably going to agree to cover everybody Obama covered, thus essentially granting the Democratic point that health care is a right. But they are going to try to do it using more market-friendly mechanisms.

As you know, the American health care system is not like a normal market. When you make most health care decisions you don’t get much information on comparative cost and quality; the personal bill you get is only vaguely related to the services; the expense is often determined by how many procedures are done, not whether the problem is fixed.

You wouldn’t buy a phone this way.

The Republicans are going to try to introduce more normal market incentives into the process. They are probably going to rely on refundable tax credits and health savings accounts so everybody can afford to shop for their own insurance and care.

This would still be nothing like a free-market system — it would still be a highly regulated, largely public benefit — but it would rely more on consumer incentives.

The crucial question is: Do market incentives work in health care?

This is really two questions. The economic one: Would market mechanisms improve quality and reduce costs? The psychological one: Do people want the extra cognitive burden of shopping for health care, or would they rather offload those decisions to someone else?

Most progressives say markets don’t work. They point back to a famous essay the economist Kenneth Arrow wrote in 1963, which is the same year the Beach Boys had a huge hit with “Surfer Girl.”

Arrow argued that there are several features that make health care unlike normal markets. People’s needs for health care are unpredictable, unlike food and clothing. The doctor-patient relationship is unique and demands a high level of trust, empathy and care. Providers know much more about medicine than patients do, so the information is hopelessly asymmetric. Patients on a gurney can’t really make normal choices, and payment comes after care, not before.

These are all solid points, especially the doctor-patient one. But health care has become less exceptional over time. The internet and other mechanisms help customers acquire a lot more information. Sophisticated modeling helps with unpredictability in a bunch of fields.

We put our lives in the hands of for-profit companies all the time. I spent part of my week learning from an aviation mechanic how hard manufacturers work to prevent pieces of metal from shredding through the cabin if an engine explodes. Airplanes are ridiculously safe.

Proponents of market-based health care rely less on theory and more on data. The most fair-minded review of the evidence I’ve read comes from a McKinsey report written by Penelope Dash and David Meredith. They noted that sometimes market forces lead to worse outcomes, but “we have been most struck by health systems in which provider competition, managed effectively, has improved outcomes and patient choice significantly, while at the same time reducing system costs.”

There’s much research to suggest that people are able to behave like intelligent health care consumers. Work by Amitabh Chandra of Harvard and others found higher-performing hospitals do gain greater market share over time. People know quality and flock to it.

Furthermore, health care providers work hard to keep up with the competitors. When one provider becomes more productive, the neighboring ones tend to as well.

There are plenty of examples where market competition has improved health care delivery. The Medicare Part D program, passed under President George W. Bush, created competition around drug benefits. The program has provided coverage for millions while coming in at 57 percent under the cost of what the Congressional Budget Office initially projected. A study of Indiana’s health savings accounts found the state’s expenses were reduced by 11 percent.

Laser eye surgery produces more patient satisfaction than any other surgery. But it’s generally not covered by insurance, so it’s a free market. Twenty years ago it cost about $2,200 per eye. Now I see ads starting at $250 an eye.

There’s a big chunk of evidence that market incentives would work in health care, especially in non-acute care. The harder problem for Republicans may be political. This is a harried society. People may not want the added burdens of making health care decisions on top of all the others. This is a distrustful society. People may not trust themselves or others to make decisions. This is an insecure society. People may not want what they perceive as another risk factor in their lives.

The policy case for the Republican plans is solid. Will they persuade in this psychological environment? I doubt it.

Bobo doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that Lasix surgery is optional, and can be considered in the same camp as plastic surgery.  I doubt that many cancer patients will defer treatment until the price comes down…  But then again, Bobo is a maroon.  Here’s what “gemli” had to say:

“The reason we have Obamacare is because the market-friendly days of old were not friendly to sick people. They were friendly to the markets at the expense of the sick. John Boehner went into a purple-tongued apoplectic rage when Obamacare was passed, not because it would help millions of the uninsured sick, but because it would inconvenience the ability of the free market to prey on them.

Health care is not a commodity, and it’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity, and the richest nation in the world should have found a way to provide medical care to the people whose lifetime of labor made it so. Instead of worrying about how health care will impact insurance companies, we should wonder how other advanced nations manage to provide low-cost, quality care to their citizens, and why we can’t.

Martin Shkreli is the poster boy for the free-market approach to health care. He may have seemed like an extreme example, but he was a piker when it came to robbing people blind for what were inexpensive drugs. How does his strategy differ from our current system, in which the U.S. isn’t allowed to negotiate drug prices?

There is one definitive and fool-proof test for determining the most compassionate and cost-effective health-care system that will support the needs of all our citizens: if Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress are for it, run screaming in the other direction. You’ll always be right.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Thanks, Comey.

The Justice Department’s inspector general is now investigating the way the F.B.I. director conveyed the false impression of an emerging Clinton scandal just days before the election, even as he said nothing about ongoing investigations into Russian intervention and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That action very probably installed Donald Trump in the White House. And it’s already obvious that the incoming commander in chief will be a walking, tweeting ethical disaster.

On the other hand, he’s also dangerously delusional about policy.

Some Republicans appear to be realizing that their long con on Obamacare has reached its limit. Chanting “repeal and replace” may have worked as a political strategy, but coming up with a conservative replacement for the Affordable Care Act — one that doesn’t take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans — isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible.

But it seems that nobody told Mr. Trump. In Wednesday’s news conference, he asserted that he would submit a replacement plan, “probably the same day” as Obamacare’s repeal — “could be the same hour” — that will be “far less expensive and far better”; also, with much lower deductibles.

This is crazy, on multiple levels.

The truth is that even if Republicans were settled on the broad outlines of a health care plan — the way Democrats were when President Obama took office — turning such an outline into real legislation is a time-consuming process.

In any case, however, the G.O.P. has spent seven years denouncing the Affordable Care Act without ever producing even the ghost of an alternative. That’s not going to change in the next few weeks, or ever. For the anti-Obamacare campaign has always been based on lies that can’t survive actual repeal.

A prime example is the pretense that health reform hasn’t helped anyone. “Things are only getting worse under Obamacare,” declared Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, last week. Yet the reality is that there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without insurance since reform went into effect — and an overwhelming majority of those covered by the new health exchanges are satisfied with their coverage.

How have Republicans nonetheless been able to get away with this lie? Part of the answer is that many of the newly insured don’t know that they’re being covered via Obamacare, or at any rate don’t realize that they will lose coverage if it’s repealed.

But that will change if repeal proceeds. For example, the percentage of nonelderly white adults without insurance fell by almost half from 2010 to 2016, from 16.4 to 8.7, a gain surely concentrated in the Trump-supporting white working class. Repeal would send that number right back up, and there would be no hiding the damage.

Meanwhile, Republicans have made hay over this year’s increase in insurance premiums. But this looks very much like a one-time adjustment; and the broader picture is that health costs have actually gone up much more slowly since Obamacare was enacted than they did before, in part due to the law’s cost-control features, which have worked far better than most expected.

And if the Affordable Care Act is killed, myths about its costs will be replaced by the reality of soaring bills for millions of Americans who don’t realize how much the act has helped them.

But won’t Trumpcare solve all these problems, by offering something much better and cheaper? Not a chance.

Republicans don’t have a health care plan, but they do have a philosophy — and it’s all about less. Less regulation, so that insurers can turn you down if you have a pre-existing condition. Less government support, so if you can’t afford coverage, too bad. And less coverage in general: Republican ideas about cost control are all about “skin in the game,” requiring people to pay more out of pocket (which somehow doesn’t stop them from complaining about high deductibles).

Implementing this philosophy would deliver a big windfall to the wealthy, who would get a huge tax cut from Obamacare repeal, and it would mean lower premiums for a relatively small number of currently healthy individuals — especially if they’re rich enough that they don’t need to worry about high deductibles.

But the idea that it would lead to big cost savings over all is pure fantasy, and it would have a devastating effect on the millions who have gained coverage during the Obama years.

As I said, it looks as if some Republicans realize this. They may go ahead with repeal-but-don’t-replace anyway, but they’ll probably do it because they believe they can find some way to blame Democrats for the ensuing disaster.

Mr. Trump, on the other hand, gives every impression of having no idea whatsoever what the issues are. But then, is there any area of policy where he does?

No.  This has been another installment of SASQ.

Blow and Krugman

January 9, 2017

In “Donald Trump and the Tainted Presidency” Mr. Blow says a hostile foreign power got its way.  Prof. Krugman, in “Deficits Matter Again,” explains why the Trump-Putin economy isn’t like Obama’s.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The more we learn about Russia’s hacking and the release of its electronic loot during our presidential election, the more it becomes clear that Donald Trump’s victory and his imminent presidency are already tainted beyond redemption.

While Russian hacks “were not involved in vote tallying,” the publishing of pilfered emails and promulgation of fake news altered the zeitgeist, poisoned the political environment and shifted public opinion, all of which redounded to Trump’s benefit.

Donald Trump is as much Russia’s appointment as our elected executive. The legacy of his political ascendance will be written in Cyrillic and affixed with an asterisk.

Do not let this be buried in the pundits’ blathering: A hostile foreign power stole confidential correspondence from American citizens — this is no different than physically breaking into an American office and carting off boxes of written letters — and funneled that stolen material to a willing conspirator, Julian Assange. The foreign power then had its desired result achieved on our Election Day.

This was an act of war and our presidency was the spoil.

This is not to say that some of what was revealed about the Democrats in the hacked emails wasn’t disturbing. It was, although most of the emails simply showed the unappetizing process by which the sausage is made. What made the leaks feel fishy was the absolute asymmetry of the targeting — it was Democratic only.

Putin helped to defeat a woman, Hillary Clinton, who promised to be a staunch adversary and helped elevate in her stead a Troglodytic lout who somehow believes that the snake that coils itself around you is just giving you a hug, and who sounded so pro-Vladimir Putin that he did everything but blow kisses at the Kremlin.

On Friday, intelligence officials released a damning report on the Russian hacking that read: “We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

On the same day, Trump was briefed on the hacking by intelligence officials, after which he released an incredulous statement claiming “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

(Ironically, that also happened to be the same day that a joint session of Congress performed its perfunctory duty of counting the Electoral College votes and verifying Trump’s victory.)

No sir, Mr. Trump, as is your wont, your assertions stretch well beyond your proof. An impact that cannot be measured is not the same as an impact that does not exist. The question isn’t “if” but “how much”; not the existence of impact but the degree to which that impact was dispositive.

The intelligence community did not say that the Russian hacking had “no effect on the outcome of the election,” but rather stated quite clearly: “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The U.S. Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze U.S. political processes or U.S. public opinion.”

You twist the truth like a string of yarn caught in a fan. But eventually, you and every citizen of this country must face the fact that you were not only elected but also installed, that your victory will be forever tangled up in the yellow tape of an international crime scene.

No wonder then that you have systematically sought to denigrate all inquiry into this act of cyber warfare that the intelligence report called “unprecedented.” You have scorned our intelligence agencies — you tweet “intelligence” in quotes the same way that we should eventually use quotes around the word “president” when it precedes your name — and you have continued your assault on the press.

On Friday, Trump told my colleague Michael Shear that the focus on the hacking amounted to “a political witch hunt.” Wrong again. It’s a truth hunt. Furthermore, the only person subjected to a witch hunt in this election was named Hillary.

Yes, as you repeatedly exclaimed before the votes were cast, the election was rigged, not by widespread voter fraud, as you falsely suggested, but rather by widespread dissemination of fraudulently obtained information. It is no coincidence that WikiLeaks began to release John Podesta’s emails just an hour after Trump’s disgusting “grab them by the [expletive]” Access Hollywood tape surfaced.

Mr. Trump, your victory is tainted; your legitimacy is rightly in question. The American people cast their ballots in the fog of fake news and under influence of stolen property weaponized as a tool of propaganda.

Some may hesitate to say that the American presidency was stolen, but it is irrefutable that the integrity of our democratic process was injured when the sanctity of what we considered uncorrupted self-determination was assaulted.

Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s American “president” — clearly his preference and possibly his product.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Not long ago prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, liked to warn in apocalyptic terms about the dangers of budget deficits, declaring that a Greek-style crisis was just around the corner. But now, suddenly, those very same politicians are perfectly happy with the prospect of deficits swollen by tax cuts; the budget resolution they’re considering would, according to their own estimates, add $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. Hey, no problem.

This sudden turnaround comes as a huge shock to absolutely nobody — at least nobody with any sense. All that posturing about the deficit was obvious flimflam, whose purpose was to hobble a Democratic president, and it was completely predictable that the pretense of being fiscally responsible would be dropped as soon as the G.O.P. regained the White House.

What wasn’t quite so predictable, however, was that Republicans would stop pretending to care about deficits at almost precisely the moment that deficits were starting to matter again.

Those apocalyptic warnings are still foolish: America, which borrows in its own currency and therefore can’t run out of cash, isn’t at all like Greece. But running big deficits is no longer harmless, let alone desirable.

The way it was: Eight years ago, with the economy in free fall, I wrote that we had entered an era of “depression economics,” in which the usual rules of economic policy no longer applied, in which virtue was vice and prudence was folly. In particular, deficit spending was essential to support the economy, and attempts to balance the budget would be destructive.

This diagnosis — shared by most professional economists — didn’t come out of thin air; it was based on well-established macroeconomic principles. Furthermore, the predictions that came out of those principles held up very well. In the depressed economy that prevailed for years after the financial crisis, government borrowing didn’t drive up interest rates, money creation by the Fed didn’t cause inflation, and nations that tried to slash budget deficits experienced severe recessions.

But these predictions were always conditional, applying only to an economy far from full employment. That was the kind of economy President Obama inherited; but the Trump-Putin administration will, instead, come into power at a time when full employment has been more or less restored.

How do we know that we’re close to full employment? The low official unemployment rate is just one indicator. What I find more compelling are two facts: Wages are finally rising reasonably fast, showing that workers have bargaining power again, and the rate at which workers are quitting their jobs, an indication of how confident they are of finding new jobs, is back to pre-crisis levels.

What changes once we’re close to full employment? Basically, government borrowing once again competes with the private sector for a limited amount of money. This means that deficit spending no longer provides much if any economic boost, because it drives up interest rates and “crowds out” private investment.

Now, government borrowing can still be justified if it serves an important purpose: Interest rates are still very low, and borrowing at those low rates to invest in much-needed infrastructure is still a very good idea, both because it would raise productivity and because it would provide a bit of insurance against future downturns. But while candidate Trump talked about increasing public investment, there’s no sign at all that congressional Republicans are going to make such investment a priority.

No, they’re going to blow up the deficit mainly by cutting taxes on the wealthy. And that won’t do anything significant to boost the economy or create jobs. In fact, by crowding out investment it will somewhat reduce long-term economic growth. Meanwhile, it will make the rich richer, even as cuts in social spending make the poor poorer and undermine security for the middle class. But that, of course, is the intention.

Again, none of this implies an economic catastrophe. If such a catastrophe does come, it will be thanks to other policies, like a rollback of financial regulation, or from outside events like a crisis in China or Europe. And because stuff does happen, and a lot depends on how the U.S. government responds when it does, we should be concerned that the incoming administration only seems to take economic advice from people who have consistently been wrong about, well, everything.

But back to deficits: the crucial point is not that Republicans were hypocritical. It is, instead, that their hypocrisy made us poorer. They screamed about the evils of debt at a time when bigger deficits would have done a lot of good, and are about to blow up deficits at a time when they will do harm.

Krugman, solo

January 2, 2017

In “America Becomes a Stan” Prof. Krugman says the of law is for the little people.  Here he is:

In 2015 the city of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was graced with a new public monument: a giant gold-plated sculpture portraying the country’s president on horseback. This may strike you as a bit excessive. But cults of personality are actually the norm in the “stans,” the Central Asian countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of which are ruled by strongmen who surround themselves with tiny cliques of wealthy crony capitalists.

Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?

We are, after all, about to hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself; remember, his “charitable” foundation spent a lot of money buying a six-foot portrait of its founder. Meanwhile, one look at his Twitter account is enough to show that victory has done nothing to slake his thirst for ego gratification. So we can expect lots of self-aggrandizement once he’s in office. I don’t think it will go as far as gold-plated statues, but really, who knows?

Meanwhile, with only a couple of weeks until Inauguration Day, Donald Trump has done nothing substantive to reduce the unprecedented — or, as he famously wrote on Twitter, “unpresidented” — conflicts of interest created by his business empire. Pretty clearly, he never will — in fact, he’s already in effect using political office to enrich himself, with some of the most blatant examples involving foreign governments steering business to Trump hotels.

This means that Mr. Trump will be in violation of the spirit, and arguably the letter, of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars gifts or profits from foreign leaders, the instant he recites the oath of office. But who’s going to hold him accountable? Some prominent Republicans are already suggesting that, rather than enforcing the ethics laws, Congress should simply change them to accommodate the great man.

And the corruption won’t be limited to the very top: The new administration seems set to bring blatant self-dealing into the center of our political system. Abraham Lincoln may have led a team of rivals; Donald Trump seems to be assembling a team of cronies, choosing billionaires with obvious, deep conflicts of interest for many key positions in his administration.

In short, America is rapidly turning into a stan.

I know that many people are still trying to convince themselves that the incoming administration will govern normally, despite the obviously undemocratic instincts of the new commander in chief and the questionable legitimacy of the process that brought him to power. Some Trump apologists have even taken to declaring that we needn’t worry about corruption from the incoming clique, because rich men don’t need more money. Seriously.

But let’s get real. Everything we know suggests that we’re entering an era of epic corruption and contempt for the rule of law, with no restraint whatsoever.

How could this happen in a nation that has long prided itself as a role model for democracies everywhere? In a direct sense, Mr. Trump’s elevation was made possible by the F.B.I.’s blatant intervention in the election, Russian subversion, and the supine news media that obligingly played up fake scandals while burying real ones on the back pages.

But this debacle didn’t come out of nowhere. We’ve been on the road to stan-ism for a long time: an increasingly radical G.O.P., willing to do anything to gain and hold power, has been undermining our political culture for decades.

People tend to forget how much of the 2016 playbook had already been used in earlier years. Remember, the Clinton administration was besieged by constant accusations of corruption, dutifully hyped as major stories by the news media; not one of these alleged scandals turned out to involve any actual wrongdoing. Not incidentally, James Comey, the F.B.I. director whose intervention almost surely swung the election, had previously worked for the Whitewater committee, which spent seven years obsessively investigating a failed land deal.

People also tend to forget just how bad the administration of George W. Bush really was, and not just because it led America to war on false pretenses. There was also an upsurge in cronyism, with many key posts going to people with dubious qualifications but close political and/or business ties to top officials. Indeed, America botched the occupation of Iraq in part thanks to profiteering by politically connected businesses.

The only question now is whether the rot has gone so deep that nothing can stop America’s transformation into Trumpistan. One thing is for sure: It’s destructive as well as foolish to ignore the uncomfortable risk, and simply assume that it will all be O.K. It won’t.

Brooks and Krugman

December 30, 2016

In “The Sidney Awards, Part Deux” Bobo presents a second batch of what he thinks are the year’s best essays.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Snatching Health Care Away From Millions:”  Will Trump really kill Obamacare?  I’ll bet if he does the 2018 midterms ought to be very interesting.  Here’s Bobo:

Every December I read hundreds of long-form essays to select the Sidney Awards, and every year I regret that I spend so much of the other 11 months reading online trivia. Then, every January, I revert to Twitter.

Andrew Sullivan got sucked into the online addiction in a big way, yanked himself away from it and wrote a brilliant essay on the process for New York magazine called “I Used to Be a Human Being.”

Sullivan was the superstar of what I guess we can call the blogging era, consumed with online volleying all day, every day. Everything else — health, friendships — atrophied: “Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter. Every second absorbed in some trivia was a second less for any form of reflection, or calm, or spirituality.” He also came to understand that we don’t really control our time online. Our clicks are seduced by technologists superbly able to suck us in.

There is also something emotionally comforting, if cowardly, about life through the screen: “An entire universe of intimate responses is flattened to a single, distant swipe. We hide our vulnerabilities, airbrushing our flaws and quirks; we project our fantasies onto the images before us.”

Sullivan cut the cord, went to a silent retreat center and promptly collapsed. Issues from his traumatic childhood flooded back. “It was as if, having slowly and progressively removed every distraction from my life, I was suddenly faced with what I had been distracting myself from. Resting for a moment against the trunk of a tree, I stopped, and suddenly found myself bent over, convulsed with the newly present pain, sobbing.”

Sullivan’s essay marks an important turning point as more people realize that smartphones have made online life so consuming as to become a monster.

Martha Nussbaum is one of America’s most brilliant philosophers, her work often focusing on the content and nature of emotions. Rachel Aviv’s wonderful New Yorker profile, “The Philosopher of Feelings,” opens with Nussbaum writing a lecture while flying to see her dying mother:

“In the lecture, she described how the Roman philosopher Seneca, at the end of each day, reflected on his misdeeds before saying to himself, ‘This time I pardon you.’ The sentence brought Nussbaum to tears. She worried that her ability to work was an act of subconscious aggression, a sign that she didn’t love her mother enough. I shouldn’t be away lecturing, she thought. I shouldn’t have been a philosopher. Nussbaum sensed that her mother saw her work as cold and detached, a posture of invulnerability. ‘We aren’t very loving creatures, apparently, when we philosophize,’ Nussbaum has written.”

The profile is a subtle exploration of a woman who is extreme at both ends of the sense and sensibility spectrum, who is almost fanatically organized and professionally accomplished, but also deeply emotional and open to the things in the world that can leave you shattered.

I have left the election largely out of the awards, named for the philosopher Sidney Hook, since we’ve been so consumed by the madness all year. But I should mention a few deserving political essays:

In “How American Politics Went Insane,” in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch argues that generations of well-intentioned reformers have destroyed the informal structures of politics, like parties, congressional hierarchies and pork barrel spending, that make government work. The reformers saw insiderish corruption, but these mediating structures held leaders accountable to one another. Without them, we are left in a world of chaos, political dysfunction, atomization and demagogy.

The economist Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution blog excellently suggested that I include a pro-Trump essay, to give the winning side its due. I’ve picked “The Flight 93 Election,” from The Claremont Review of Books, by the person who writes under the name Publius Decius Mus. The core argument is that modern conservatism has failed at everything except its self-preservation, that a figure like Donald Trump could arise only in deeply corrupt times and that only the radical shift he offers can protect the nation from utter destruction.

Some sort of prognostication prize should go to Ronald Brownstein for “Is Donald Trump Outflanking Hillary Clinton,” also in The Atlantic. One week before the election, Brownstein wondered why the Clinton campaign was spending its energies on states it didn’t need to win, like Florida, while neglecting the “Blue Wall” states it absolutely had to win, like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Finally, to lift our eyes to the heavens, let’s throw in Alan Lightman’s “What Came Before the Big Bang?,” in Harper’s. Lightman describes current thinking about the creation of the universe. He suggests that the universe moves from tidiness to messiness, that the entire universe may have once been like a subatomic particle, that before-and-after, cause-and-effect thinking might be a human construct that prevents us from understanding cosmic events.

Lightman’s account of cosmology explodes our mental frameworks and normal categories, and thus serves as a good preparation for 2017.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If James Comey, the F.B.I. director, hadn’t tipped the scales in the campaign’s final days with that grotesquely misleading letter, right now an incoming Clinton administration would be celebrating some very good news. Because health reform, President Obama’s signature achievement, is stabilizing after a bumpy year.

This means that the huge gains achieved so far — tens of millions of newly insured Americans and dramatic reductions in the number of people skipping treatment or facing financial hardship because of cost — look as if they’re here to stay.

Or they would be here to stay if the man who squeaked into power thanks to Mr. Comey and Vladimir Putin wasn’t determined to betray his supporters, and snatch away the health care they need.

To appreciate the good news about Obamacare you need to understand where the earlier bad news came from. Premiums on the exchanges, the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, did indeed rise sharply this year, because insurers were losing money. But this wasn’t because of a surge in overall medical costs, which have risen much more slowly since the act was passed than they did before. It reflected, instead, the mix of people signing up — fewer healthy, low-cost people than expected, more people with chronic health issues.

The question was whether this was a one-time adjustment or the start of a “death spiral,” in which higher premiums would drive healthy Americans out of the market, further worsening the mix, leading to even higher premiums, and so on.

And the answer is that it looks like a one-shot affair. Despite higher premiums, enrollments in the exchanges are running ahead of their levels a year ago; no death spiral here. Meanwhile, analysts are reporting substantial financial improvement for insurers: The premium hikes are doing the job, ending their losses.

In other words, Obamacare hit a bump in the road, but appears to be back on track.

But will it be killed anyway?

In a way, Democrats should hope that Republicans follow through on their promises to repeal health reform. After all, they don’t have a replacement, and never will. They’ve spent seven years promising something very different from yet better than Obamacare, but keep failing to deliver, because they can’t; the logic of broad coverage, especially for those with pre-existing conditions, requires either an Obamacare-like system or single-payer, which Republicans like even less. That won’t change.

As a result, repeal would have devastating effects, with people who voted Trump among the biggest losers. Independent estimates suggest that Republican plans would cause 30 million Americans to lose coverage, with about half the losers coming from the Trump-supporting white working class. At least some of those Trump supporters would probably conclude that they were the victims of a political scam — which they were.

Republican congressional leaders like Paul Ryan nonetheless seem eager to push ahead with repeal. In fact, they seem to be in a great rush, probably because they’re afraid that if they don’t unravel health reform in the very first weeks of the Trump era, rank-and-file members of Congress will start hearing from constituents who really, really don’t want to lose their insurance.

Why do the Republicans hate health reform? Some of the answer is that Obamacare was paid for in part with taxes on the wealthy, who will reap a huge windfall if it’s repealed, even as many middle-income families face tax hikes.

More broadly, Obamacare must die precisely because it’s working, showing that government action really can improve people’s lives — a truth they don’t want anyone to know.

How will Republicans try to contain the political fallout if they go ahead with repeal, and tens of millions lose access to health care? No doubt they’ll try to distract the public — and the all-too-compliant news media — with shiny objects of various kinds.

But surely a central aspect of their damage control will be an attempt to push a false narrative about Obamacare’s past. Health reform, they’ll claim, was always a failure, and it was already collapsing on the eve of the G.O.P. takeover. When the number of uninsured Americans skyrockets on their watch, they’ll claim that it’s not their fault — like everything, it’s the fault of liberal elites.

So let’s refute that narrative in advance. Obamacare has, in fact, been a big success — imperfect, yes, but it has greatly improved (and saved) many lives. And all indications are that this success is sustainable, that the teething problems of health reform weren’t fatal and were well on their way to being solved at the end of 2016.

If, as seems all too likely, a health care debacle is imminent, blame must be placed where it belongs: on Donald Trump and the people who put him over the top.

Krugman, solo

December 26, 2016

In “And the Trade War Came” Prof. Krugman says tariffs are a bad idea whose time has come.  Here he is:

Donald Trump got within striking distance of the White House — or, more precisely, Comey-and-Putin range — thanks to overwhelming support from white working-class voters. These voters trusted his promise to bring back good manufacturing jobs while disbelieving his much more credible promise to take away their health care. They have a rude shock coming.

But white workers aren’t alone in their gullibility: Corporate America is still in denial about the prospects for a global trade war, even though protectionism was a central theme of the Trump campaign. In fact, the only two causes about which Mr. Trump seems truly passionate are supposedly unfair trade deals and admiration for authoritarian regimes. It’s naïve to assume that he’ll let his signature policy issue slide.

Let’s talk means, motive and consequences.

You might imagine that a drastic change in U.S. trade policy would require congressional approval, and that Republicans — who claim to believe in free markets — would put on the brakes. But given G.O.P. spinelessness, that’s unlikely.

In any case, the relevant legislation gives the occupant of the White House remarkable leeway should he choose to go protectionist. He can restrict imports if such imports “threaten to impair the national security”; he can impose tariffs “to deal with large and serious United States balance-of-payments deficits”; he can modify tariff rates when foreign governments engage in “unjustifiable” policies. Who determines whether such conditions apply? The executive himself.

Now, these provisions weren’t intended to empower a president to reverse decades of U.S. trade policy, or engage in personal vendettas. You can guess, however, how much such niceties are likely to bother the incoming administration, which is already talking about using its powers. Which brings us to the question of motive.

Why would a Trump administration impose restrictions on imports? One answer is those working-class voters, whose supposed champion is set to pursue a radically antiworker domestic agenda. There’s an obvious incentive for Mr. Trump to make a big show of doing something to fulfill campaign promises. And if this creates international conflict, that’s actually a plus when it comes to diverting attention from collapsing health care and so on.

Beyond this, it’s clear that the incoming commander-in-chief really believes that international trade is a game in which nice guys finish last, and that America has been taken advantage of. Furthermore, he’s picking advisers who will confirm him in these beliefs.

Oh, and don’t expect attempts by experts to point out the holes in this view — to point out, in particular, that the image of a predatory China, running huge surpluses by keeping its currency undervalued, is years out of date — to make any impression. Members of the Trump team believe that all criticism of their economic ideas reflects a conspiracy among think tanks that are out to undermine them. Because of course they do.

So what will happen when the Trump tariffs come?

There will be retaliation, big time. When it comes to trade, America is not that much of a superpower — China is also a huge player, and the European Union is bigger still. They will respond in kind, targeting vulnerable U.S. sectors like aircraft and agriculture.

And retaliation isn’t the whole story; there’s also emulation. Once America decides that the rules don’t apply, world trade will become a free-for-all.

Will this cause a global recession? Probably not — those risks are, I think, exaggerated. No, protectionism didn’t cause the Great Depression.

What the coming trade war will do, however, is cause a lot of disruption. Today’s world economy is built around “value chains” that spread across borders: your car or your smartphone contain components manufactured in many countries, then assembled or modified in many more. A trade war would force a drastic shortening of those chains, and quite a few U.S. manufacturing operations would end up being big losers, just as happened when global trade surged in the past.

An old joke tells of a motorist who runs over a pedestrian, then tries to fix the damage by backing up — and runs over the victim a second time. Well, the effects of the Trumpist trade war on U.S. workers will be a lot like that.

Given these prospects, you might think that someone will persuade the incoming administration to rethink its commercial belligerence. That is, you might think that if you have paid no attention to the record and character of the protectionist in chief. Someone who won’t take briefings on national security because he’s “like, a smart person” and doesn’t need them isn’t likely to sit still for lessons on international economics.

No, the best bet is that the trade war is coming. Buckle your seatbelts.

Krugman, solo

December 23, 2016

In “Populism, Real and Phony” Prof. Krugman says that the movement that’s about to take power in the U.S. isn’t the same as Europe’s far-right movements.  Here he is:

Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in America. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

But what should we call these groups? Many reporters are using the term “populist,” which seems both inadequate and misleading. I guess racism can be considered populist in the sense that it represents the views of some non-elite people. But are the other shared features of this movement — addiction to conspiracy theories, indifference to the rule of law, a penchant for punishing critics — really captured by the “populist” label?

Still, the European members of this emerging alliance — an axis of evil? — have offered some real benefits to workers. Hungary’s Fidesz party has provided mortgage relief and pushed down utility prices. Poland’s Law and Justice party has increased child benefits, raised the minimum wage and reduced the retirement age. France’s National Front is running as a defender of that nation’s extensive welfare state — but only for the right people.

Trumpism is, however, different. The campaign rhetoric may have included promises to keep Medicare and Social Security intact and replace Obamacare with something “terrific.” But the emerging policy agenda is anything but populist.

All indications are that we’re looking at huge windfalls for billionaires combined with savage cuts in programs that serve not just the poor but also the middle class. And the white working class, which provided much of the 46 percent Trump vote share, is shaping up as the biggest loser.

True, we don’t yet have detailed policy proposals. But Mr. Trump’s cabinet choices show which way the wind is blowing.

Both his pick as budget director and his choice to head Health and Human Services want to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and privatize Medicare. His choice as labor secretary is a fast-food tycoon who has been a vociferous opponent both of Obamacare and of minimum wage hikes. And House Republicans have already submitted plans for drastic cuts in Social Security, including a sharp rise in the retirement age.

What would these policies do? Obamacare led to big declines in the number of the uninsured in regions that voted Trump this year, and repealing it would undo all those gains. The nonpartisan Urban Institute estimates that repeal would cause 30 million Americans — 16 million of them non-Hispanic whites — to lose health coverage.

And no, there won’t be a “terrific” replacement: Republican plans would cover only a fraction as many people as the law they would displace, and they’d be different people — younger, healthier and richer.

Converting Medicare into a voucher system would also amount to a severe benefit cut, partly because it would lead to lower government spending, partly because a significant fraction of spending would be diverted into the overhead and profits of private insurance companies. And raising the retirement age for Social Security would hit especially hard among Americans whose life expectancy has stagnated or declined, or who have disabilities that make it hard for them to continue working — problems that are strongly correlated with Trump votes.

In other words, the movement that’s about to take power here isn’t the same as Europe’s far-right movements. It may share their racism and contempt for democracy; but European populism is at least partly real, while Trumpist populism is turning out to be entirely fake, a scam sold to working-class voters who are in for a rude awakening. Will the new regime pay a political price?

Well, don’t count on it. This epic bait-and-switch, this betrayal of supporters, certainly offers Democrats a political opportunity. But you know that there will be huge efforts to shift the blame. These will include claims that the collapse of health care is really President Obama’s fault; claims that the failure of alternatives is somehow the fault of recalcitrant Democrats; and an endless series of attempts to distract the public.

Expect more Carrier-style stunts that don’t actually help workers but dominate a news cycle. Expect lots of fulmination against minorities. And it’s worth remembering what authoritarian regimes traditionally do to shift attention from failing policies, namely, find some foreigners to confront. Maybe it will be a trade war with China, maybe something worse.

Opponents need to do all they can to defeat such strategies of distraction. Above all, they shouldn’t let themselves be sucked into cooperation that leaves them sharing part of the blame. The perpetrators of this scam should be forced to own it.

I just wonder what’s going to happen when all those people on Obamacare who lose their health insurance, and all those 50+ year old workers realize what Paul Ryan et al are planning to do to Social Security and Medicare come to grips with what they’ve elected.  But I guess as long as he still wants to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it…  And register all Muslims…   USA! USA! USA!!!11!!!  They deserve what they’re going to get.  Me?  I’m glad that I’m old enough that I may not have to see the aftermath for long.  And I’m PROFOUNDLY glad that I don’t have children who will have to live through it.

Blow and Krugman

December 19, 2016

In “Donald Trump, This Is Not Normal!” Mr. Blow says the coming threat to our nation cannot simply be ignored.  Prof. Krugman, in “How Republics End,” says no, our institutions won’t save us.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This is my last column of the year.

In 2015, my last column was a roundup of the year’s biggest social justice stories as ranked by intellectuals and activists.

I thought that I’d make that a year-end tradition for the column, but this year Donald Trump has intruded.

That is not to say that issues of social justice have receded. They haven’t, at all. But the election of Donald Trump poses such a significant — and singular — threat to this country that for me all other issues are unfortunately, temporarily I hope, subsumed by the unshakable sense of impending calamity he presages.

The nation is soon to be under the aegis of an unstable, unqualified, undignified demagogue and with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there is little that can be done to constrict or control his power and unpredictability.

It’s like seeing an ominous weight swinging toward a limb, sure to break it, while you feel utterly helpless to prevent the fracture.

As the exiting first lady Michelle Obama told Oprah last week: “We’re feeling what not having hope feels like.” In point of fact, we may be on the brink of feeling what an erosion of liberty, competent leadership, and absolute sovereignty feels like.

The durability of our democracy is not destined. It is not impervious to harm or even destruction. The Constitution can’t completely prevent that, nor can protocols and conventions. The most important safeguard against authoritarianism is an informed, engaged citizenry vigorously opposed to acquiescence and attrition.

In other words, it may well be that the only thing that can protect America from the man who will sit at its pinnacle of power is the urgent insistence of the public that radical alteration of our customs and concepts of accountability are not on the table, that authority in a democracy is imbued by the ballot, but it is also accountable to its people.

And people are already ill at ease with Trump. There is increasing resolution on the dimensions of Russian interference in our election — an effort that, according to recent reports, appeared aimed at injuring Hillary Clinton and installing Trump as president. The implications of such a breach, something that comes close to an act of war, are absolutely staggering.

The fact that a hostile foreign government executed a plan to influence, and therefore irrevocably damage, the bedrock of our democracy is unfathomable. The repercussions are nearly incalculable: it corrodes faith in the process, faith in elected officials, faith in national security, faith in our assumed autonomy.

To have a president who refuses to acknowledge the violation in order to avoid the asterisk by which he might be forever marked a Manchurian candidate or, more plainly, Moscow’s mule, is not normal.

Furthermore, to have a president who is disturbingly complimentary when discussing Russia; whose onetime campaign manager had pro-Russia ties; whose son said in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” and continued, “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”; and who has nominated for secretary of state a man on whom Vladimir Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship, is not normal. Americans shouldn’t have to worry about whether the White House will become an annex of the Kremlin.

Furthermore, to have a president surround himself with a rogue’s gallery of white supremacy sympathizers, anti-Muslim extremists, devout conspiracy theorists, anti-science doctrinaires and climate-change deniers is not normal.

To have a president for whom we don’t know the extent of his financial entanglements with other countries — in part because he has refused to release his tax returns — is not normal.

To have a president with massive, inherent conflicts of interest between continued ownership of his company and the running of our country is not normal.

Presidents may be exempt from conflict of interest provisions in the law, but exemption from legal jeopardy is not an exemption from fact or defilement of the primacy of a president’s fiduciary duty to empire above enterprise.

To have a president who nurses petty vengeances against the press and uses the overwhelming power of the presidency to attack any reporting of fact not colored by flattery and adoration is not normal.

It doesn’t matter if he is motivated by calculation — particularly toward diversion — or compulsion: His behavior remains unsettling and even dangerous.

To have a president who apparently does not have time for daily intelligence briefings, but who can make time for the most trite anti-intellectual stunts, like staging a photo-op with a troubled rapper and twilight-tweeting insults like a manic insomniac, is not normal.

I fully understand that elevated outrage is hard to maintain. It’s exhausting.

But the alternative is surrender to national nihilism and the welcoming of woe.

The next four years could be epochal years in the history of this country. They could test the limits of presidential power and the public’s passivity.

I happen to believe that history will judge kindly those who continued to shout, from the rooftops, through their own weariness and against the corrosive drift of conformity: This is not normal!

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Many people are reacting to the rise of Trumpism and nativist movements in Europe by reading history — specifically, the history of the 1930s. And they are right to do so. It takes willful blindness not to see the parallels between the rise of fascism and our current political nightmare.

But the ’30s isn’t the only era with lessons to teach us. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the ancient world. Initially, I have to admit, I was doing it for entertainment and as a refuge from news that gets worse with each passing day. But I couldn’t help noticing the contemporary resonances of some Roman history — specifically, the tale of how the Roman Republic fell.

Here’s what I learned: Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.

On the first point: Roman politics involved fierce competition among ambitious men. But for centuries that competition was constrained by some seemingly unbreakable rules. Here’s what Adrian Goldsworthy’s “In the Name of Rome” says: “However important it was for an individual to win fame and add to his and his family’s reputation, this should always be subordinated to the good of the Republic … no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power.”

America used to be like that, with prominent senators declaring that we must stop “partisan politics at the water’s edge.” But now we have a president-elect who openly asked Russia to help smear his opponent, and all indications are that the bulk of his party was and is just fine with that. (A new poll shows that Republican approval of Vladimir Putin has surged even though — or, more likely, precisely because — it has become clear that Russian intervention played an important role in the U.S. election.) Winning domestic political struggles is all that matters, the good of the republic be damned.

And what happens to the republic as a result? Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.

Consider what just happened in North Carolina. The voters made a clear choice, electing a Democratic governor. The Republican legislature didn’t openly overturn the result — not this time, anyway — but it effectively stripped the governor’s office of power, ensuring that the will of the voters wouldn’t actually matter.

Combine this sort of thing with continuing efforts to disenfranchise or at least discourage voting by minority groups, and you have the potential making of a de facto one-party state: one that maintains the fiction of democracy, but has rigged the game so that the other side can never win.

Why is this happening? I’m not asking why white working-class voters support politicians whose policies will hurt them — I’ll be coming back to that issue in future columns. My question, instead, is why one party’s politicians and officials no longer seem to care about what we used to think were essential American values. And let’s be clear: This is a Republican story, not a case of “both sides do it.”

So what’s driving this story? I don’t think it’s truly ideological. Supposedly free-market politicians are already discovering that crony capitalism is fine as long as it involves the right cronies. It does have to do with class warfare — redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy is a consistent theme of all modern Republican policies. But what directly drives the attack on democracy, I’d argue, is simple careerism on the part of people who are apparatchiks within a system insulated from outside pressures by gerrymandered districts, unshakable partisan loyalty, and lots and lots of plutocratic financial support.

For such people, toeing the party line and defending the party’s rule are all that matters. And if they sometimes seem consumed with rage at anyone who challenges their actions, well, that’s how hacks always respond when called on their hackery.

One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.

But if there is any hope of redemption, it will have to begin with a clear recognition of how bad things are. American democracy is very much on the edge.

And so this is how America will end — not with a bang but on Twitter, with tweets from a malignant narcissist.

Andrew Rosenthal and Krugman

December 16, 2016

Andrew Rosenthal is the newest op-ed contributor.  He writes about just about anything that intrigues him.  Today, in “To Understand Trump, Learn Russian,” he says the language has two words for truth, and it’s time for Americans to learn them.  Prof. Krugman, in “Useful Idiots Galore,” says Russia got lots of help in the United States hacking the election.  Here’s Mr. Rosenthal:

The Russian language has two words for truth — a linguistic quirk that seems relevant to our current political climate, especially because of all the disturbing ties between the newly elected president and the Kremlin.

The word for truth in Russian that most Americans know is “pravda” — the truth that seems evident on the surface. It’s subjective and infinitely malleable, which is why the Soviet Communists called their party newspaper “Pravda.” Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends.

But the real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things is called “istina” in Russian. You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina.

For the Trump team, the pravda of the 2016 election is that not all Trump voters are explicitly racist. But the istina of the 2016 campaign is that Trump’s base was heavily dependent on racists and xenophobes, Trump basked in and stoked their anger and hatred, and all those who voted for him cast a ballot for a man they knew to be a racist, sexist xenophobe. That was an act of racism.

Trump’s team took to Twitter with lightning speed recently to sneer at the conclusion by all 17 intelligence agencies that the Kremlin hacked Democratic Party emails for the specific purpose of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton. Trump said the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Iraq, and that someone else could have been responsible for the hack and that the Democrats were just finding another excuse for losing.

The istina of this mess is that powerful evidence suggests that the Russians set out to interfere in American politics, and that Trump, with his rejection of Western European alliances and embrace of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, was their chosen candidate.

The pravda of Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, as secretary of state is that by choosing an oil baron who has made billions for his company by collaborating with Russia, Trump will make American foreign policy beholden to American corporate interests.

That’s bad enough, but the istina is far worse. For one thing, American foreign policy has been in thrall to American corporate interests since, well, since there were American corporations. Just look at the mess this country created in Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Middle East to serve American companies.

Yes, Tillerson has ignored American interests repeatedly, including in Russia and Iraq, and has been trying to remove sanctions imposed after Russia’s seizure of Crimea because they interfered with one of his many business deals. But take him out of the equation in the Trump cabinet and nothing changes. Trump has made it plain, with every action he takes, that he is going to put every facet of policy, domestic and foreign, at the service of corporate America. The istina here is that Tillerson is just a symptom of a much bigger problem.

The pravda is that Trump was right in saying that the intelligence agencies got it wrong about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.

But the istina is that Trump’s contempt for the intelligence services is profound and dangerous. He’s not getting daily intelligence briefings anymore, apparently because they are just too dull to hold his attention.

And now we know that Condoleezza Rice was instrumental in bringing Tillerson to Trump’s attention. As national security adviser and then secretary of state for president George W. Bush, Rice was not just wrong about Iraq, she helped fabricate the story that Hussein had nuclear weapons.

Trump and Tillerson clearly think they are a match for the wily and infinitely dangerous Putin, but as they move foward with their plan to collaborate with Russia instead of opposing its imperialist tendencies, they might keep in mind another Russian saying, this one from Lenin.

“There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience,” he wrote. “A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”

Putin has that philosophy hard-wired into his political soul. When it comes to using scoundrels to get what he wants, he is a professional, and Trump is only an amateur. That is the istina of the matter.

He does seem to be a real fan of the useless link…  And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Wednesday an editorial in The Times described Donald Trump as a “useful idiot” serving Russian interests. That may not be exactly right. After all, useful idiots are supposed to be unaware of how they’re being used, but Mr. Trump probably knows very well how much he owes to Vladimir Putin. Remember, he once openly appealed to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Still, the general picture of a president-elect who owes his position in part to intervention by a foreign power, and shows every sign of being prepared to use U.S. policy to reward that power, is accurate.

But let’s be honest: Mr. Trump is by no means the only useful idiot in this story. As recent reporting by The Times makes clear, bad guys couldn’t have hacked the U.S. election without a lot of help, both from U.S. politicians and from the news media.

Let me explain what I mean by saying that bad guys hacked the election. I’m not talking about some kind of wild conspiracy theory. I’m talking about the obvious effect of two factors on voting: the steady drumbeat of Russia-contrived leaks about Democrats, and only Democrats, and the dramatic, totally unjustified last-minute intervention by the F.B.I., which appears to have become a highly partisan institution, with distinct alt-right sympathies.

Does anyone really doubt that these factors moved swing-state ballots by at least 1 percent? If they did, they made the difference in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and therefore handed Mr. Trump the election, even though he received almost three million fewer total votes. Yes, the election was hacked.

By the way, people who respond to this observation by talking about mistakes in Clinton campaign strategy are missing the point, and continuing their useful idiocy. All campaigns make mistakes. Since when do these mistakes excuse subversion of an election by a foreign power and a rogue domestic law enforcement agency?

So why did the subversion work?

It’s important to realize that the postelection C.I.A. declaration that Russia had intervened on behalf of the Trump campaign was a confirmation, not a revelation (although we’ve now learned that Mr. Putin was personally involved in the effort).

The pro-Putin tilt of Mr. Trump and his advisers was obvious months before the election — I wrote about it in July. By midsummer the close relationship between WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence was also obvious, as was the site’s growing alignment with white nationalists.

Did Republican politicians, so big on flag waving and impugning their rivals’ patriotism, reject this foreign aid to their cause? No, they didn’t. In fact, as far as I can tell, no major Republican figure was even willing to criticize Mr. Trump when he directly asked Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It has long been obvious — except, apparently, to the news media — that the modern G.O.P. is a radical institution that is ready to violate democratic norms in the pursuit of power. Why should the norm of not accepting foreign assistance be any different?

The bigger surprise was the behavior of the news media, and I don’t mean fake news; I mean big, prestigious organizations. Leaked emails, which everyone knew were probably the product of Russian hacking, were breathlessly reported as shocking revelations, even when they mostly revealed nothing more than the fact that Democrats are people.

Meanwhile, the news media dutifully played up the Clinton server story, which never involved any evidence of wrongdoing, but merged in the public mind into the perception of a vast “email” scandal when there was nothing there.

And then there was the Comey letter. The F.B.I. literally found nothing at all. But the letter dominated front pages and TV coverage, and that coverage — by news organizations that surely knew that they were being used as political weapons — was almost certainly decisive on Election Day.

So as I said, there were a lot of useful idiots this year, and they made the election hack a success.

Now what? If we’re going to have any hope of redemption, people will have to stop letting themselves be used the way they were in 2016. And the first step is to admit the awful reality of what just happened.

That means not trying to change the subject to campaign strategy, which is a legitimate topic but has no bearing on the question of electoral subversion. It means not making excuses for news coverage that empowered that subversion.

And it means not acting as if this was a normal election whose result gives the winner any kind of a mandate, or indeed any legitimacy beyond the bare legal requirements. It might be more comfortable to pretend that things are O.K., that American democracy isn’t on the edge. But that would be taking useful idiocy to the next level.

Blow and Krugman

December 12, 2016

In “Patriotic Opposition to Donald Trump” Mr. Blow says you may have been on the losing side of the election, but you are on the right side of history.  In “The Tainted Election” Prof. Krugman discusses coming to grips with illegitimacy.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Nothing is safe or sacrosanct in Donald Trump’s developing governance team, and America had better start being alarmed about it and moving to actively oppose it.

The time for voting has elapsed, but the time for being vocal has emerged.

Let’s take the tally:

He has chosen a man hostile to immigrants and with a complicated — to put it mildly — history on race to be attorney general.

He has chosen a man who is anti-abortion, pro-fetal “personhood,” and anti-Obamacare to be secretary of health and human services.

He has chosen a man who has criticized paid sick-leave policies and opposes increasing the federal minimum wage to lead the Department of Labor.

He has chosen a climate change denier and anti-environmental-regulation crusader to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

He has chosen a vocal proponent of school vouchers to run the Department of Education.

In a way, Trump seems to be trying to destroy these agencies from the inside out, the way a worm slowly devours an apple.

Furthermore, he is stacking these jobs with people who have given him cash. According to The Washington Post:

“President-elect Donald Trump has now tapped six big donors and fund-raisers to serve in his administration, lining up an unprecedented concentration of wealthy backers for top posts. Together with their families, Trump’s nominees gave $11.6 million to support his presidential bid, his allied super PACs and the Republican National Committee, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal campaign filings.”

Trump’s defense: “I want people that made a fortune!”

And, just as the C.I.A. was asserting that Russia meddled in our election specifically to provide succor to this sap, reports emerged that Trump’s likely pick for secretary of state is Exxon’s chief executive, who has close ties to Vladimir Putin. Daddy Warbucks is hellbent on appeasing Mother Russia.

Angry yet? Yes. Good!

And understand this: You are not alone; you aren’t even in the minority.

A Pew Research Center report published last week found:

“Trump also receives low marks for his initial cabinet choices and other high level appointments. By 51 percent to 40 percent, more say they disapprove than approve of the cabinet choices and appointments Trump has made so far. In contrast, majorities approved of the choices made” by the past four presidents-elect. “In fact, approval ratings for Trump’s cabinet choices are 18 points lower than for the next lowest-rated president-elect.”

Furthermore, the report found:

“Just 37 percent of the public views Trump as well-qualified; 32 percent of registered voters described Trump as well-qualified in October. Majorities continue to say Trump is reckless (65 percent) and has poor judgment (62 percent), while 68 percent describe him as ‘hard to like.’”

Since the election I have heard from more people than I can count who express fear and anxiety about Trump and the future of the country. There is a stifling sense of discontent and foreboding and apprehension.

I know that it can feel like we are all drowning in a deluge of compounding outrages, with every headline about this impending administration appearing to one-up the last, but take heart.

You may have been on the losing side of this year’s election, but you are on the right side of history. In the final tally, courage will always defeat fear; love will always conquer hate; the beautiful diversity of America, and indeed all of humanity, will always outshine the darkness of racial enmity.

This is the reason I write, to remind people of honor and courage; to tell them that their cause isn’t lost, that their destiny is victory.

Maybe I am confined by my craft, pumping out polemics that, it is my great hope, help to stiffen the spines and lift the spirits of those determined to stare down the threat. Language, in that way, holds the possibility of transcendence and conscription. One of the first and most essential ways to mobilize around a cause is to establish its moral framing.

In a 1780 letter written to a fellow revolutionary considering “retiring into private life,” staunch abolitionist Samuel Adams — a man strongly opposed to slavery and therefore one of my favorite founders — wrote:

“If ever the Time should come, when vain & aspiring Men shall possess the highest Seats in Government, our Country will stand in Need of its experiencd Patriots to prevent its Ruin. There may be more Danger of this, than some, even of our well disposd Citizens may imagine. If the People should grant their Suffrages to Men, only because they conceive them to have been Friends to the Country, without Regard to the necessary Qualifications for the Places they are to fill, the Administration of Government will become a mere Farce, and our pub-lick Affairs will never be put on the Footing of solid Security.

There is no other time to which this could apply more perfectly than now. This is not the time for the “retiring” of “experiencd patriots.” A “vain and aspiring” man now possesses the highest seat in government and the administration of the government is on the verge of becoming a farce.

America needs you … now. Speak up.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The C.I.A., according to The Washington Post, has now determined that hackers working for the Russian government worked to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump. This has actually been obvious for months, but the agency was reluctant to state that conclusion before the election out of fear that it would be seen as taking a political role.

Meanwhile, the F.B.I. went public 10 days before the election, dominating headlines and TV coverage across the country with a letter strongly implying that it might be about to find damning new evidence against Hillary Clinton — when it turned out, literally, to have found nothing at all.

Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?

And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004.

So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.

The question now is what to do with that horrifying knowledge in the months and years ahead.

One could, I suppose, appeal to the president-elect to act as a healer, to conduct himself in a way that respects the majority of Americans who voted against him and the fragility of his Electoral College victory. Yeah, right. What we’re actually getting are wild claims that millions of people voted illegally, false assertions of a landslide, and denigration of the intelligence agencies.

Another course of action, which you’ll see many in the news media taking, is to normalize the incoming administration, basically to pretend that everything is O.K. This might — might — be justified if there were any prospect of responsible, restrained behavior on the part of the next president. In reality, however, it’s clear that Mr. Trump — whose personal conflicts of interest are unprecedented, and quite possibly unconstitutional — intends to move U.S. policy radically away from the preferences of most Americans, including a pronounced pro-Russian shift in foreign policy.

In other words, nothing that happened on Election Day or is happening now is normal. Democratic norms have been and continue to be violated, and anyone who refuses to acknowledge this reality is, in effect, complicit in the degradation of our republic. This president will have a lot of legal authority, which must be respected. But beyond that, nothing: he doesn’t deserve deference, he doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

And when, as you know will happen, the administration begins treating criticism as unpatriotic, the answer should be: You have to be kidding. Mr. Trump is, by all indications, the Siberian candidate, installed with the help of and remarkably deferential to a hostile foreign power. And his critics are the people who lack patriotism?

Will acknowledging the taint on the incoming administration do any good? Maybe it will stir the consciences of at least a few Republicans. Remember, many, though not all, of the things Mr. Trump will try to do can be blocked by just three Republican senators.

Politics being what it is, moral backbones on Capitol Hill will be stiffened if there are clear signs that the public is outraged by what is happening. And there will be a chance to make that outrage felt directly in two years — not just in congressional elections, but in votes that will determine control of many state governments.

Now, outrage over the tainted election past can’t be the whole of opposition politics. It will also be crucial to maintain the heat over actual policies. Everything we’ve seen so far says that Mr. Trump is going to utterly betray the interests of the white working-class voters who were his most enthusiastic supporters, stripping them of health care and retirement security, and this betrayal should be highlighted.

But we ought to be able to look both forward and back, to criticize both the way Mr. Trump gained power and the way he uses it. Personally, I’m still figuring out how to keep my anger simmering — letting it boil over won’t do any good, but it shouldn’t be allowed to cool. This election was an outrage, and we should never forget it.