Archive for the ‘Krugman’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

February 24, 2017

In “The National Death Wish” Bobo tells us all about two senators with a recipe for American stagnation.  I’m slammed today and didn’t have time to read the comments, but I’ll bet they’re choice…  Prof. Krugman, in “Death and Tax Cuts,” explains what Republicans mean when they talk about freedom.  Here’s Bobo:

A few weeks ago, Tom Cotton and David Perdue, Republican senators from Arkansas and Georgia, introduced an immigration bill that would cut the number of legal immigrants to this country each year in half, from about a million to about 500,000.

In a press conference, Cotton offered a rationale for his bill. “There’s no denying this generation-long surge in low-skilled immigration has hurt blue-collar wages,” he said. If we can reduce the number of low-skill immigrants coming into the country, that will reduce the pool of labor, put upward pressure on wages and bring more Americans back into the labor force.

It seems like a plausible argument. That is, until you actually get out in the real world.

Cotton and Perdue’s position, which is now the mainstream Republican position, is based on the unconscious supposition that American society is like a lake, with a relatively fixed boundary. If you cut the supply of fish coming from outside, there will be more food for the ones born here.

The problem is that American society is actually more like a river. Sometimes the river is running high, with a lot of volume and flow, with lots of good stuff for everybody, and sometimes it’s running low.

Let’s illustrate the point by looking at one portion of the labor market. Right now construction is booming in many cities. This has created high demand for workers and pervasive labor shortages.

Nationwide, there are now about 200,000 unfilled construction jobs, according to the National Association of Home Builders. If America were as simple as a lake, builders would just raise wages, incomes would rise and the problem would be over.

But that hasn’t happened. Builders have gone recruiting in high schools and elsewhere, looking for people willing to learn building skills, but they’re not having much luck.

Construction is hard, many families demean physical labor and construction is highly cyclical. Hundreds of thousands of people lost construction jobs during the financial crisis and don’t want to come back. They want steadier work even at a lower salary.

Employers have apparently decided raising wages won’t work. Adjusting for inflation, wages are roughly where they were, at about $27 an hour on average in a place like Colorado. Instead, employers have had to cut back on output. One builder told Reuters that he could take on 10 percent more projects per year if he could find the crews.

In other words, the labor shortage hasn’t led to higher wages; it’s reduced and distorted the flow of the economic river. There’s less home buying, less furniture buying, less economic activity. People devote a larger share of their income to housing and less to everything else. When builders do have workers, they focus on high-end luxury homes, leaving affordable housing high and dry.

The essential point is that immigrants don’t take native jobs on any sort of one-to-one basis. They drive economic activity all the way down the river, creating new jobs in some areas and then pushing native workers into more complicated jobs in others. A comprehensive study of non-European Union immigrants into Denmark between 1991 and 2008 found that immigrants did not push down wages, but rather freed natives to do more pleasant work.

An exhaustive U.S. study by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigration didn’t drive down most wages, but it had a “very small” and temporary effect on native-born workers without a high school degree.

The way to help working families is not to cut immigration. It’s to help everybody flow to the job he or she wants to take.

The last time we cut immigration, in the 1920s, we were in the middle of a baby boom. Today, fertility rates have plummeted. If the Cotton-Perdue bill became law, the working-age population would shrink, the nation would age and America would decline.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many Republicans prefer a dying white America to a place like, say, Houston.

Houston has very light zoning regulations, and as a result it has affordable housing and a culture that welcomes immigrants. This has made it incredibly diverse, with 145 languages spoken in the city’s homes, and incredibly dynamic — the fastest-growing big city in America recently. (Personally, I wish it would do a bit more zoning — it’s pretty ugly.)

The large immigrant population has paradoxically given the city a very strong, very patriotic and cohesive culture, built around being welcoming to newcomers and embracing the future. As the Houston urban analyst Tory Gattis points out, the Houston Rodeo has so many volunteers it has recently limited their special privileges. In 2015 it had the healthiest philanthropic sector in the nation. The city is coming together to solve its pension problems better than just about any other big place.

Cotton and Perdue are the second coming of those static mind-set/slow-growth/zero-sum liberals one used to meet in the 1970s. They’ll dry up the river. I wish they had a little more faith in freedom, dynamism and human ingenuity.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Across the country, Republicans have been facing crowds demanding to know how they will protect the 20 million Americans who gained health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and will lose it if the act is repealed. And after all that inveighing against the evils of Obamacare, it turns out that they’ve got nothing.

Instead, they’re talking about freedom — which these days is the real refuge of scoundrels.

Actually, many prominent Republicans haven’t even gotten to the point of trying to respond to criticism; they’re just whining about how mean their constituents are being, and invoking conspiracy theories. Talk about snowflakes who can dish it out but can’t take it!

Thus, Representative Jason Chaffetz insisted that the public outcry is just “a paid attempt to bully and intimidate”; Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, calls all anti-Trump demonstrations a “very paid, AstroTurf-type movement.” And the tweeter in chief angrily declared that protests have been “planned out by liberal activists” — because what could be worse than political action by the politically active?

But perhaps the saddest spectacle is that of Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, whom the media have for years portrayed as a serious, honest conservative, a deep thinker about how to reform America’s safety net. That reputation was never justified; still, even those of us who long ago recognized him as a flimflammer have been struck by his utter failure to rise to this occasion.

After years to prepare, Mr. Ryan finally unveiled what was supposedly the outline of a health care plan. It was basically a sick joke: flat tax credits, unrelated to income, that could be applied to the purchase of insurance.

These credits would be obviously inadequate for the lower- and even middle-income families that gained coverage under Obamacare, so it would cause a huge surge in the number of uninsured. Meanwhile, the affluent would receive a nice windfall. Funny how that seems to happen in every plan Mr. Ryan proposes.

That was last week. This week, perhaps realizing how flat his effort fell, he began tweeting about freedom, which he defined as “the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.” Give me consumer sovereignty or give me death! And Obamacare, he declared, is bad because it deprives Americans of that freedom by doing things like establishing minimum standards for insurance policies.

I very much doubt that this is going to fly, now that ordinary Americans are starting to realize just how devastating loss of coverage would be. But for the record, let me remind everyone what we’ve been saying for years: Any plan that makes essential care available to everyone has to involve some restriction of choice.

Suppose you want to make insurance available to people with pre-existing conditions. You can’t just forbid insurance companies to discriminate based on medical history; if you do that, healthy people won’t sign up until they get sick. So you have to mandate the purchase of insurance; and you have to provide subsidies to lower-income families so that they can afford the policies. The end result of this logic is … Obamacare.

And one more thing: Insurance policies must meet a minimum standard. Otherwise, healthy people will buy cheap policies with paper-thin coverage and huge deductibles, which is basically the same as not buying insurance at all.

So yes, Obamacare somewhat restricts choice — not because meddling bureaucrats want to run your life, but because some restrictions are necessary as part of a package that in many ways sets Americans free.

For health reform has been a hugely liberating experience for millions. It means that workers don’t have to fear that quitting a job with a large company will mean loss of health coverage, and that entrepreneurs don’t have to fear striking out on their own. It means that those 20 million people who gained coverage don’t have to fear financial ruin if they get sick — or unnecessary death if they can’t afford treatment. For there is no real question that Obamacare is saving tens of thousands of lives every year.

So why do Republicans hate Obamacare so much? It’s not because they have better ideas; as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, they’re coming up empty-handed on the “replace” part of “repeal and replace.” It’s not, I’m sorry to say, because they are deeply committed to Americans’ right to buy the insurance policy of their choice.

No, mainly they hate Obamacare for two reasons: It demonstrates that the government can make people’s lives better, and it’s paid for in large part with taxes on the wealthy. Their overriding goal is to make those taxes go away. And if getting those taxes cut means that quite a few people end up dying, remember: freedom!

Blow and Krugman

February 20, 2017

In “Harry and Sidney: Soul Brothers” Mr. Blow offers on their 90th birthdays, an ode to two of the most remarkable men of our time.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “On Economic Arrogance:”  Why do Republicans imagine they can deliver growth?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Please allow me to divert my gaze for one day away from our national political darkness and toward two national rays of light.

Monday is Sidney Poitier’s 90th birthday. His best friend of 70 years, Harry Belafonte, turns 90 on March 1.

This is an ode to and appreciation of the friendship — one of the most remarkable and resilient of our time — between two Hollywood royals.

Poitier and Belafonte didn’t meet until they were 20 years old, and yet Belafonte still considered Poitier his first real friend in life. As Belafonte put it, he lived a “nomadic” life as a child, shuttling back and forth between New York and islands of the Caribbean with his mother as she searched for work. “I did not get rooted long enough to develop what many people have the joy of experiencing, and that is childhood friends.”

The two men met at the American Negro Theatre, where Poitier worked as a janitor while studying with the company and where Belafonte worked as a stagehand. This was where they became performers.

The two men quickly broke through to each other, in part because they had so much in common. Not only were they the same age, they were both born to parents of West Indian heritage, enabling them to see the absurdity of racism in America from within and without and to bring a quasi-Pan-African sensibility to the African-American experience.

They shared the charmingly ordinary experiences that young friends share, like sneaking into the theater on the same ticket, each seeing half of a show, then filling each other in afterward on the half the other had missed. They called it “sharing the burden and the joy.”

And yet, by leaning on each other, supporting each other (Belafonte counseled Poitier though the dissolution of his marriage, which ended during his nine-year affair with actress Diahann Carroll), pushing each other, and yes, competing with each other (the first time Poitier was cast in a role, he was Belafonte’s understudy), they would both find tremendous popular success. Each man often took roles that the other had turned down or didn’t get.

In the 1950s Belafonte was dubbed the “King of Calypso” after his breakthrough album Calypso became the first LP in America to sell a million copies. In the early 1960s, Poitier became the first African-American to win the best actor Academy Award.

Even at the height of their success both men made an indelible mark on the Civil Rights Movement and changed the very idea of black masculinity.

In 1964, Belafonte convinced a hesitant Poitier to help him deliver $70,000 stuffed into a doctor’s bag to Freedom Summer volunteers in the South. They were met by Klansmen who chased them and fired guns at them. As one website put it, referring to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, “The trip ‘solidified Poitier’s commitment to SNCC,’ and he would become the symbol of the group’s goals for African-Americans.”

For Belafonte’s part, he formed a committee to support the movement and raised thousands of dollars to help bail the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail, pay for the release of arrested protesters, help finance freedom rides and bankroll SNCC.

Belafonte and Poitier helped organize the March on Washington and helped plan King’s memorial after he was assassinated.

As for their impact on black masculinity, Belafonte has said of Poitier, “I don’t think anyone [else] in the world could have been anointed with the responsibility of creating a whole new image of black people, and especially black men.” In truth, Belafonte is being needlessly self-effacing here, because both he and Poitier accomplished this feat.

I’ve met both men and was enthralled by each. The first time I heard Belafonte speak in person, he spoke so eloquently and passionately that I was sure that he was reading a speech. He wasn’t. The next time I saw him I rehearsed a fan speech in my mind as I approached him, but before I could utter a word, he said to me, “I’m such a fan.” Mind. Blown.

When I was on my book tour, Poitier invited me to dinner in Beverly Hills. He was the most charming and graceful person I’ve ever met, famous or not. He told me: “I’m adopting you. I don’t have any sons. I have six daughters.” He insisted that I sign the book for him and his wife: “To Mom and Dad.”

Belafonte and Poitier demonstrated over a lifetime how celebrities could embody activism as well as the quiet power of dignity and grace.

King once said of Poitier: “He is a man of great depth, a man of great social concern, a man who is dedicated to human rights and freedom. Here is a man who, in the words we so often hear now, is a soul brother.”

In fact, I think that is what Poitier and Belafonte found in each other: a soul brother. Happy birthday, gentlemen.

Now, after that lovely bit of relief from our ongoing national nightmare, here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to press reports, the Trump administration is basing its budget projections on the assumption that the U.S. economy will grow very rapidly over the next decade — in fact, almost twice as fast as independent institutions like the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve expect. There is, as far as we can tell, no serious analysis behind this optimism; instead, the number was plugged in to make the fiscal outlook appear better.

I guess this was only to be expected from a man who keeps insisting that crime, which is actually near record lows, is at a record high, that millions of illegal ballots were responsible for his popular vote loss, and so on: In Trumpworld, numbers are what you want them to be, and anything else is fake news. But the truth is that unwarranted arrogance about economics isn’t Trump-specific. On the contrary, it’s the modern Republican norm. And the question is why.

Before I get there, a word about why extreme growth optimism is unwarranted.

The Trump team is apparently projecting growth at between 3 and 3.5 percent for a decade. This wouldn’t be unprecedented: the U.S. economy grew at a 3.4 percent rate during the Reagan years, 3.7 percent under Bill Clinton. But a repeat performance is unlikely.

For one thing, in the Reagan years baby boomers were still entering the work force. Now they’re on their way out, and the rise in the working-age population has slowed to a crawl. This demographic shift alone should, other things being equal, subtract around a percentage point from U.S. growth.

Furthermore, both Reagan and Clinton inherited depressed economies, with unemployment well over 7 percent. This meant that there was a lot of economic slack, allowing rapid growth as the unemployed went back to work. Today, by contrast, unemployment is under 5 percent, and other indicators suggest an economy close to full employment. This leaves much less scope for rapid growth.

The only way we could have a growth miracle now would be a huge takeoff in productivity — output per worker-hour. This could, of course, happen: maybe driverless flying cars will arrive en masse. But it’s hardly something one should assume for a baseline projection.

And it’s certainly not something one should count on as a result of conservative economic policies. Which brings me to the strange arrogance of the economic right.

As I said, belief that tax cuts and deregulation will reliably produce awesome growth isn’t unique to the Trump-Putin administration. We heard the same thing from Jeb Bush (who?); we hear it from congressional Republicans like Paul Ryan. The question is why. After all, there is nothing — nothing at all — in the historical record to justify this arrogance.

Yes, Reagan presided over pretty fast growth. But Bill Clinton, who raised taxes on the rich, amid confident predictions from the right that this would cause an economic disaster, presided over even faster growth. President Obama presided over much more rapid private-sector job growth than George W. Bush, even if you leave out the 2008 collapse. Furthermore, two Obama policies that the right totally hated – the 2013 hike in tax rates on the rich, and the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act – produced no slowdown at all in job creation.

Meanwhile, the growing polarization of American politics has given us what amount to economic policy experiments at the state level. Kansas, dominated by conservative true believers, implemented sharp tax cuts with the promise that these cuts would jump-start rapid growth; they didn’t, and caused a budget crisis instead. Last week Kansas legislators threw in the towel and passed a big tax hike.

At the same time Kansas was turning hard right, California’s newly dominant Democratic majority raised taxes. Conservatives declared it “economic suicide” — but the state is in fact doing fine.

The evidence, then, is totally at odds with claims that tax-cutting and deregulation are economic wonder drugs. So why does a whole political party continue to insist that they are the answer to all problems?

It would be nice to pretend that we’re still having a serious, honest discussion here, but we aren’t. At this point we have to get real and talk about whose interests are being served.

Never mind whether slashing taxes on billionaires while giving scammers and polluters the freedom to scam and pollute is good for the economy as a whole; it’s clearly good for billionaires, scammers, and polluters. Campaign finance being what it is, this creates a clear incentive for politicians to keep espousing a failed doctrine, for think tanks to keep inventing new excuses for that doctrine, and more.

And on such matters Donald Trump is really no worse than the rest of his party. Unfortunately, he’s also no better.

Brooks and Krugman

February 17, 2017

Today Bobo has decided to tell us all about “What a Failed Trump Administration Looks Like.”  He gurgles that without grown-ups in charge, the government could stop working.  “Don Shipp” from Homestead, FL will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “The Silence of the Hacks:”  Is subversion in the defense of tax cuts no vice?  Here’s Bobo:

I still have trouble seeing how the Trump administration survives a full term. Judging by his Thursday press conference, President Trump’s mental state is like a train that long ago left freewheeling and iconoclastic, has raced through indulgent, chaotic and unnerving, and is now careening past unhinged, unmoored and unglued.

Trump’s White House staff is at war with itself. His poll ratings are falling at unprecedented speed. His policy agenda is stalled. F.B.I. investigations are just beginning. This does not feel like a sustainable operation.

On the other hand, I have trouble seeing exactly how this administration ends. Many of the institutions that would normally ease out or remove a failing president no longer exist.

There are no longer moral arbiters in Congress like Howard Baker and Sam Ervin to lead a resignation or impeachment process. There is no longer a single media establishment that shapes how the country sees the president. This is no longer a country in which everybody experiences the same reality.

Everything about Trump that appalls 65 percent of America strengthens him with the other 35 percent, and he can ride that group for a while. Even after these horrible four weeks, Republicans on Capitol Hill are not close to abandoning their man.

The likelihood is this: We’re going to have an administration that has morally and politically collapsed, without actually going away.

What does that look like?

First, it means an administration that is passive, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. To get anything done, a president depends on the vast machinery of the U.S. government. But Trump doesn’t mesh with that machinery. He is personality-based while it is rule-based. Furthermore, he’s declared war on it. And when you declare war on the establishment, it declares war on you.

The Civil Service has a thousand ways to ignore or sit on any presidential order. The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds. The intelligence community has only just begun to undermine this president.

President Trump can push all the pretty buttons on the command deck of the Starship Enterprise, but don’t expect anything to actually happen, because they are not attached.

Second, this will probably become a more insular administration. Usually when administrations stumble, they fire a few people and bring in the grown-ups — the James Baker or the David Gergen types. But Trump is anti-grown-up, so it’s hard to imagine Chief of Staff Haley Barbour. Instead, the circle of trust seems to be shrinking to his daughter, her husband and Stephen Bannon.

Bannon has a coherent worldview, which is a huge advantage when all is chaos. It’s interesting how many of Bannon’s rivals have woken up with knives in their backs. Michael Flynn is gone. Reince Priebus has been unmanned by a thousand White House leaks. Rex Tillerson had the potential to be an effective secretary of state, but Bannon neutered him last week by denying him the ability to even select his own deputy.

In an administration in which “promoted beyond his capacity” takes on new meaning, Bannon looms. With each passing day, Trump talks more like Bannon without the background reading.

Third, we are about to enter a decentralized world. For the past 70 years most nations have instinctively looked to the U.S. for leadership, either to follow or oppose. But in capitals around the world, intelligence agencies are drafting memos with advice on how to play Donald Trump.

The first conclusion is obvious. This administration is more like a medieval monarchy than a modern nation-state. It’s more “The Madness of King George” than “The Missiles of October.” The key currency is not power, it’s flattery.

The corollary is that Trump is ripe to be played. Give the boy a lollipop and he won’t notice if you steal his lunch. The Japanese gave Trump a new jobs announcement he could take to the Midwest, and in return they got presidential attention and coddling that other governments would have died for.

If you want to roll the Trump administration, you’ve got to get in line. The Israelis got a possible one-state solution. The Chinese got Trump to flip-flop on the “One China” policy. The Europeans got him to do a 180 on undoing the Iran nuclear deal.

Vladimir Putin was born for a moment such as this. He is always pushing the envelope. After gifting Team Trump with a little campaign help, the Russian state media has suddenly turned on Trump and Russian planes are buzzing U.S. ships. The bear is going to grab what it can.

We’re about to enter a moment in which U.S. economic and military might is strong but U.S. political might is weak. Imagine the Roman Empire governed by Monaco.

That’s scary. The only saving thought is this: The human imagination is vast, but it is not nearly vast enough to encompass the infinitely multitudinous ways Donald Trump can find to get himself disgraced.

“The court system has given itself carte blanche to overturn any Trump initiative, even on the flimsiest legal grounds.”  What a pile of crap — give us a citation of some of those “flimsiest” legal grounds, you worthless hack.  Here’s what “Don Shipp” had to say:

“No one could watch yesterday’s Faulknerian, stream of consciousness, psycho drama, and not be concerned about the mental stability and solipsistic tendencies of Donald Trump. We all saw it. The existential problem is that the Republican Party could utilize it’s control of the Congressional committee system, subpoena power, and the creation of select committees to thoroughly investigate the Russian debacle and monitor any future Trump anomalies, but blind ambition and their position as parasites on the political host of Donald Trump, precludes them from putting the welfare of the nation ahead of their political agenda. Mitch McConnell oozes fetid partisanship to the point of squalid political immorality. Paul Ryan’s obsession with enacting his economic agenda renders him spineless and unwilling to confront the conservative radicals in the House whose co-operation he would need to investigate Trump.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The story so far: A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate — and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador — but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier, but took no action.

Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong here, and it’s all perfectly innocent. But if it’s not innocent, it’s very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?

Nothing.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, says that Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador were “entirely appropriate.”

Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, angrily dismissed calls for a select committee to investigate contacts during the campaign: “There is absolutely not going to be one.”

Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House oversight committee — who hounded Hillary Clinton endlessly over Benghazi — declared that the “situation has taken care of itself.”

Just the other day Republicans were hot in pursuit of potential scandal, and posed as ultrapatriots. Now they’re indifferent to actual subversion and the real possibility that we are being governed by people who take their cues from Moscow. Why?

Well, Senator Rand Paul explained it all: “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.” Does anyone doubt that he was speaking for his whole party?

The point is that you can’t understand the mess we’re in without appreciating not just the potential corruption of the president, but the unmistakable corruption of his party — a party so intent on cutting taxes for the wealthy, deregulating banks and polluters and dismantling social programs that accepting foreign subversion is, apparently, a small price to pay.

Put it this way: I’ve been seeing comparisons between the emerging information on the Trump-Putin connection and the Watergate affair, which brought down a previous president. But while the potential scandal here is far worse than Watergate — Richard Nixon was sinister and scary, but nobody imagined that he might be taking instructions from a foreign power — it’s very hard to imagine today’s Republicans standing up for the Constitution the way their predecessors did.

It’s not simply that these days there are more moral midgets in Congress, although that, too. Watergate took place before Republicans began their long march to the political right, so Congress was far less polarized than it is now. There was widespread agreement between the parties on basic economic ideas, and a fair amount of ideological crossover; this meant that Republicans didn’t worry so much that holding a lawless president accountable would derail their hard-line agenda.

The polarization of the electorate also undermines Congress’s role as a check on the president: Most Republicans are in safe districts, where their main fear is of primary challengers to their right. And the Republican base has suddenly become remarkably pro-Russian. Funny how that works.

So how does this crisis end?

It’s not a constitutional crisis — yet. But Donald Trump is facing a clear crisis of legitimacy. His popular-vote-losing win was already suspect given the F.B.I.’s last-minute intervention on his behalf. Now we know that even as the F.B.I. was creating the false appearance of scandal around his opponent, it was sitting on evidence suggesting alarmingly close relations between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia. And nothing he has done since the inauguration allays fears that he is in effect a Putin puppet.

How can a leader under such a cloud send American soldiers to die? How can he be granted the right to shape the Supreme Court for a generation?

Again, a thorough, nonpartisan, unrestricted investigation could conceivably clear the air. But Republicans in Congress, who have the power to make such an investigation happen, are dead set against it.

The thing is, this nightmare could be ended by a handful of Republican legislators willing to make common cause with Democrats to demand the truth. And maybe there are enough people of conscience left in the G.O.P.

But there probably aren’t. And that’s a problem that’s even scarier than the Trump-Putin axis.

Blow and Krugman

February 13, 2017

In “The Power of Disruption” Mr. Blow tells us history shows that it works.  Prof. Krugman, in “Ignorance Is Strength,” says what they don’t know can hurt them, but also us.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Trump resistance movement is stretching its wings, engaging its muscles and feeling its power. It is large and strong and tough. It has moved past debilitating grief and into righteous anger, assiduous organization and pressing activism.

Welcome to the dawn of the fighting-mad majority: The ones who didn’t vote for Trump and maybe even some who now regret that they did.

They are charging forward under the banner of sage wisdom that has endured through the ages: Show up, get loud and fight back. Do it with your body and words, with your time and money, with every fiber of yourself. They see what this dawning regime means and they don’t intend, not even for a second, to wait around to see what happens. “What happens” is happening right now and it’s horrific.

Donald Trump is a vulgar, uninformed, anti-intellectual, extremely unpopular grifter helming a family of grifters who apparently intend to milk their moment on the mount for every red cent.

Trump still hasn’t released his taxes or fully disconnected from his businesses. His wife is suing The Daily Mail because she believes the newspaper may have injured her “unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to “have garnered multimillion-dollar business relationships for a multiyear term.” When his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line was dropped by Nordstrom, Trump lashed out at the retailer on Twitter, citing Ivanka as something of his moral compass: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!” This begs the question: “Why do you need someone to push you to do the right thing?”

Then, top Trump adviser Kellyanne “QVC” Conway, from the confines of the White House briefing room, said during a televised interview: “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff is what I would say.” She continued: “I’m going to give a free commercial here: Go buy it today, everybody; you can find it online.”

Unethical is too kind a word for these classless cretins. Furthermore, Trump has nominated, and his Republican conspirators in the Senate have confirmed, a rogues’ gallery of some of the least qualified, most questionable appointees in recent memory. Aside from some of them being the fiercest critics of the very agencies they are charged with leading, some have also been accused of bigotry, plagiarism, insider trading and overall vacuousness.

Trump’s Muslim ban has also been an absolute disaster and has met some much-applauded resistance in court, most recently with the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rebuking the administration’s lawyers like children.

This administration is already manifesting as the disaster we knew it would be; the stench of its rot surrounds us. What is there to wait and see? A rose will never bloom from a weed; you must snatch that thing up at first sight, by the root.

That is why you are seeing so much grass-roots resistance from a multiplying array of groups. One of the most prominent is called “Indivisible.” The Nation interviewed Ezra Levin, a former Democratic staffer and co-founder of the project and reported on the exchange: “Levin says that Indivisible built on the Tea Party’s model of ‘practicing locally-focused, almost entirely defensive strategy.’ This, he adds, ‘was very smart, and it was rooted in an understanding of how American democracy works. They understood that they didn’t have the power to set the agenda in Washington, but they did have the ability to react to it. It’s Civics 101 stuff — going to local offices, attending events, calling their reps.”

I would add that these groups are practicing one of the most effective tactics of confronting power: disruption. Town hall meetings have been disrupted; protesters disrupted Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s plans to enter a Washington school.

Disruption works!

When Frederick Douglass attacked Abraham Lincoln by saying that he “seems to possess an ever increasing passion for making himself appear silly and ridiculous, if nothing worse,” Douglass was being disruptive.

When women suffragists paraded through Washington, they were being disruptive.

When Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat, she was being disruptive.

When civil rights activists marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were being disruptive.

When LGBT people fought back at The Stonewall Inn, they were being disruptive.

When Act Up flooded Times Square, they were being disruptive.

When Occupy Wall Street refused to move from their parks, they were being disruptive.

When Black Lives Matter took to the streets and ground traffic to a halt, they were being disruptive.

When Native Americans stood in resistance at Standing Rock, they were being disruptive.

When Elizabeth Warren persisted, she was being disruptive.

Disruption is not a dirty word; in this environment, it’s a badge of honor.

Yes, it’s important to show up on Election Day, but it is also important to show up on the hundreds of days before and after. This is what the resistance movements are saying to Trump and his America: Buckle your seatbelts, because massive disruption is in the offing.

Trump is not normal. He is not competent. And we will not simply sit back and suck it up.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When I travel to Asia, I’m fairly often met at the airport by someone holding a sign reading “Mr. Paul.” Why? In much of Asia, names are given family first, personal second — at home, the prime minister of Japan is referred to as Abe Shinzo. And the mistake is completely forgivable when it’s made by a taxi driver picking up a professor.

It’s not so forgivable, however, if the president of the United States makes the same mistake when welcoming the leader of one of our most important economic and security partners. But there it was: Donald Trump referring to Mr. Abe as, yes, Prime Minister Shinzo.

Mr. Abe did not, as far as we know, respond by calling his host President Donald.

Trivial? Well, it would be if it were an isolated instance. But it isn’t. What we’ve seen instead over the past three weeks is an awesome display of raw ignorance on every front. Worse, there’s no hint that either the White House or its allies in Congress see this as a problem. They appear to believe that expertise, or even basic familiarity with a subject, is for wimps; ignorance is strength.

We see this on legal matters: In a widely quoted analysis, the legal expert Benjamin Wittes described the infamous executive order on refugees as “malevolence tempered by incompetence,” and noted that the order reads “as if it was not reviewed by competent counsel at all” — which is a good way to lose in court.

We see it on national security matters, where the president continues to rely on a chief adviser who, suspicious closeness to the Kremlin aside, appears to get his strategic information from right-wing conspiracy theorists.

We see it on education, where the hearings for Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, revealed her to be completely ignorant about even the most elementary issues.

We see it on diplomacy. How hard is it to ask someone from the State Department to make sure that the White House gets foreign leaders’ names right? Too hard, apparently: Before the Abe flub, the official agenda for the state visit by Theresa May, the British prime minister, repeatedly misspelled her name.

And on economics — well, there’s nobody home. The Council of Economic Advisers, which is supposed to provide technical expertise, has been demoted from cabinet rank, but that hardly matters, since nobody has been nominated to serve. Remember all that talk about a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan? If you do, please remind the White House, which hasn’t offered even a ghost of a concrete proposal.

But let me not be too hard on the Tweeter-in-chief: disdain for expertise is general in his party. For example, the most influential Republican economists aren’t serious academics with a conservative bent, of whom there are many; they’re known hacks who literally can’t get a number right.

Or consider the current G.O.P. panic over health care. Many in the party seem shocked to learn that repealing any major part of Obamacare will cause tens of millions to lose insurance. Anyone who studied the issue could have told them years ago how the pieces of health reform fit together, and why. In fact, many of us did, repeatedly. But competent analysis wasn’t wanted.

And that is, of course, the point. Competent lawyers might tell you that your Muslim ban is unconstitutional; competent scientists that climate change is real; competent economists that tax cuts don’t pay for themselves; competent voting experts that there weren’t millions of illegal ballots; competent diplomats that the Iran deal makes sense, and Putin is not your friend. So competence must be excluded.

At this point, someone is bound to say, “If they’re so dumb, how come they won?” Part of the answer is that disdain for experts — sorry, “so-called” experts — resonates with an important part of the electorate. Bigotry wasn’t the only dark force at work in the election; so was anti-intellectualism, hostility toward “elites” who claim that opinions should be based on careful study and thought.

Also, campaigning is very different from governing. This is especially true when the news media spend far more time obsessing over your opponent’s pseudo-scandals than they do on all actual policy issues combined.

But now things have gotten real, and all indications are that the people in charge have no idea what they’re doing, on any front.

In some ways this cluelessness may be a good thing: malevolence may indeed be tempered by incompetence. It’s not just the court defeat over immigration; Republican ignorance has turned what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg against Obamacare into a quagmire, to the great benefit of millions. And Mr. Trump’s imploding job approval might help slow the march to autocracy.

But meanwhile, who’s in charge? Crises happen, and we have an intellectual vacuum at the top. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Oh, trust me, Paul — I’m terrified.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 10, 2017

Bobo wants someone to come up with “A Gift for Donald Trump,” and he frets over what to give the man who has everything.  “Ross McLaurin” from Houston, TX will have something to say…  In “Preserving the Sanctity of All Facts” Mr. Cohen says in a new era of “alternative facts” and the talk of “fact-based” journalism, the simple truth is under siege.  Prof. Krugman, in “When the Fire Comes,” says we should get ready for the inevitable presidential power grab.  Here’s Bobo:

If you could give Donald Trump the gift of a single trait to help his presidency, what would it be?

My first thought was that prudence was the most important gift one could give him. Prudence is the ability to govern oneself with the use of reason. It is the ability to suppress one’s impulses for the sake of long-term goals. It is the ability to see the specific circumstances in which you are placed, and to master the art of navigating within them.

My basic thought was that a prudent President Trump wouldn’t spend his mornings angrily tweeting out his resentments. A prudent Trump wouldn’t spend his afternoons barking at foreign leaders and risking nuclear war. “Prudence is what differentiates action from impulse and heroes from hotheads,” writes the French philosopher André Comte-Sponville.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order — building walls, offending allies and driving away the stranger and the refugee. Do I really want to make him more prudent and effective in pursuit of malicious goals?

Moreover, the true Trump dysfunction seems deeper. We are used to treating politicians as vehicles for political philosophies and interest groups. But in Trump’s case, his philosophy, populism, often takes a back seat to his psychological complexes — the psychic wounds that seem to induce him into a state of perpetual war with enemies far and wide.

With Trump we are relentlessly thrown into the Big Shaggy, that unconscious underground of wounds, longings and needs that drive him to do what he does, to tweet what he does, to attack whom he does.

Thinking about politics in the age of Trump means relying less on the knowledge of political science and more on the probings of D.H. Lawrence, David Foster Wallace and Carl Jung.

At the heart of Trumpism is the perception that the world is a dark, savage place, and therefore ruthlessness, selfishness and callousness are required to survive in it. It is the utter conviction, as Trump put it, that murder rates are at a 47-year high, even though in fact they are close to a 57-year low. It is the utter conviction that we are engaged in an apocalyptic war against radical Islamic terrorism, even though there are probably several foreign policy problems of greater importance.

It’s not clear if Trump is combative because he sees the world as dangerous or if he sees the world as dangerous because it justifies his combativeness. Either way, Trumpism is a posture that leads to the now familiar cycle of threat perception, insult, enemy-making, aggrievement, self-pity, assault and counterassault.

So, upon reflection, the gift I would give Trump would be an emotional gift, the gift of fraternity. I’d give him the gift of some crisis he absolutely could not handle on his own. The only way to survive would be to fall back entirely on others, and then to experience what it feels like to have them hold him up.

Out of that, I hope, would come an ability to depend on others, to trust other people, to receive grace, and eventually a desire for companionship. Fraternity is the desire to make friends during both good and hostile occasions and to be faithful to those friends. The fraternal person is seeking harmony and fair play between individuals. He is trying to move the world from tension to harmony.

Donald Trump didn’t have to have an administration that was at war with everyone but its base. He came to office with a populist mandate that cut across partisan categories. He could have created unorthodox coalitions and led unexpected alliances that would have broken the logjam of our politics.

He didn’t have to have a vicious infighting administration in which everybody leaks against one another and in which backstairs life is a war of all against all.

He doesn’t have to begin each day making enemies: Nordstrom, John McCain, judges. He could begin each day looking for friends, and he would actually get a lot more done.

On Inauguration Day, when Trump left his wife in the dust so he could greet the Obamas, I didn’t realize how quickly having a discourteous leader would erode the conversation. But look at how many of any day’s news stories are built around enmity. The war over who can speak in the Senate. Kellyanne Conway’s cable TV battle du jour. Half my Facebook feed is someone linking to a video with the headline: Watch X demolish Y.

I doubt that Trump will develop a capacity for fraternity any time soon, but to be human is to hold out hope, and to believe that even a guy as old and self-destructive as Trump is still 0.001 percent open to a transformation of the heart.

And there’s probably a 0.001% chance that I’ll see pigs flying past my house.  Here’s what “Ross McLaurin” had to say:

“Sure, and if only Hitler had been more like Mother Teresa, Hugo Chavez the benefit of a degree in economics and Nero a fire extinguisher.

On what rational basis do you expect a 70 year old man whose well publicized and ill advised business and personal dealings over many decades will change? My recollection is that he has been involved in over 3500 lawsuits as he attempts to bully or weasel his way out of his dealings. Why would you possibly have any transactions with such a person?

He is an artist when it comes to convincing the gullible. As good a writer as you are, you are not in that category and I don’t know why you are trying to convince me or yourself that their exists the slightest possibility that Trump will transform into someone totally different that the “Donald” that he has been parading around for decades.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Fact-based journalism is a ridiculous, tautological phrase. It’s like talking about oxygen-based human life. There is no other kind. Facts are journalism’s foundation; the pursuit of them, without fear or favor, is its main objective.

But in this time of President Trump’s almost daily “fake news” accusations against The New York Times, and of his counselor Kellyanne Conway’s “alternative facts,” and of untruths seeping like a plague from the highest office in the land, there’s increasing talk of “real” or “fact-based” journalism.

That’s ominous. Fact-based as opposed to what other type? To state the obvious, fake news websites fed by kids in Macedonia to make a buck are not journalism. These sites use fabricated stuff in journalism’s garb to further political ends.

There’s a targeted “Gaslight” attack on journalists designed to make them doubt their sanity. It’s emanating from the White House and aims to drag everyone down the rabbit hole where 2+2=5.

Velocity trumps veracity. That is the puzzle and the menace of our age.

Speed and disruption have more psychological impact than truth and science. They shape the discourse. The debunking of a fake news story is seldom as powerful as the story itself. Trump says “X.” Uproar! Hordes of journalists scurry to disprove “X.” He moves on, never to mention it again, or claims that he did not say it, or insists that what he really said was “Y.”

People begin to wonder: Am I imagining this? They feel that some infernal mechanism has taken hold and is dragging them toward an abyss. The president is a reference point; if he lies, lying seeps deep into the culture. Americans start to ask: Will we ever be able to dislodge these people from power? What are they capable of?

Simon Schama, the British historian, recently tweeted: “Indifference about the distinction between truth and lies is the precondition of fascism. When truth perishes so does freedom.”

The enormity of the defiling of the White House in just three weeks is staggering. For decades the world’s security was undergirded by America’s word. The words that issued from the Oval Office were solemn. It was on America’s word, as expressed by the president, that the European continent and allies like Japan built their postwar security.

Now the words that fall from Trump’s pursed lips or, often misspelled, onto his Twitter feed are trite or false or meaningless. He’s angry with Nordstrom, for heaven’s sake, because the department store chain dropped his daughter Ivanka’s clothing line! This is the concern of the leader of the free world.

Unpresidented!

I was struck by how Paul Horner, who runs a big Facebook fake-news operation, described our times in The Washington Post: “Honestly people are definitely dumber. They just keep passing stuff around. Nobody fact-checks anything anymore — I mean, that’s how Trump got elected. He just said whatever he wanted, and people believed everything, and when the things he said turned out not to be true, people didn’t care because they’d already accepted it. It’s real scary. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

We’ve never seen anything like it because when hundreds of millions of Americans are connected, anyone, clueless or not, can disseminate what they like with a click.

Horner came up, during the campaign, with the fake news story that a protester at a Trump rally had been paid $3,500. It went viral. We’ve had fake news accounts of how Hillary Clinton paid $62 million to Beyoncé and Jay Z to perform in Cleveland, and how Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim American officer killed in Iraq, was an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Fake news — BREAKING! SHOCKING! — swayed the election.

Now we have President Trump suggesting that the real fake news is his negative polls — along with CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and any other news organizations that are doing their jobs: holding his authority to account and bearing witness to his acts. Stephen Bannon, Trump’s man of the shadows, thinks the media should “keep its mouth shut.” We won’t.

Sometimes I try to imagine what Trump’s Reichstag fire moment might be. In February 1933, a few weeks after Hitler became chancellor, fire engulfed the parliament in Berlin — an act of arson whose origin is still unclear. A recent New Yorker article by George Prochnik quoted the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig on Hitler’s savage reaction: “At one blow all of justice in Germany was smashed.”

From a president who loathes the press, who insults the judiciary, who has no time for American ideals of liberty or democracy, and whose predilection for violence is evident, what would be the reaction to a Reichstag fire in American guise — say a major act of terrorism?

We can only shudder at the thought.

Facts matter. The federal judiciary is pushing back. The administration is leaking. Journalism (no qualifier needed) has never been more important. Truth has not yet perished, but to deny that it is under siege would be to invite disaster.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

What will you do when terrorists attack, or U.S. friction with some foreign power turns into a military confrontation? I don’t mean in your personal life, where you should keep calm and carry on. I mean politically. Think about it carefully: The fate of the republic may depend on your answer.

Of course, nobody knows whether there will be a shocking, 9/11-type event, or what form it might take. But surely there’s a pretty good chance that sometime over the next few years something nasty will happen — a terrorist attack on a public place, an exchange of fire in the South China Sea, something. Then what?

After 9/11, the overwhelming public response was to rally around the commander in chief. Doubts about the legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote and was installed by a bare majority on the Supreme Court were swept aside. Unquestioning support for the man in the White House was, many Americans believed, what patriotism demanded.

The truth was that even then the urge toward national unity was one-sided, with Republican exploitation of the atrocity for political gain beginning almost immediately. But people didn’t want to hear about it; I got angry mail, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, whenever I pointed out what was going on.

Unfortunately, the suspension of critical thinking ended as such suspensions usually do — badly. The Bush administration exploited the post-9/11 rush of patriotism to take America into an unrelated war, then used the initial illusion of success in that war to ram through huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bad as that was, however, the consequences if Donald Trump finds himself similarly empowered will be incomparably worse.

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

But what’s even worse is the way Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, framed the issue: Nordstrom’s business decision was a “direct attack” on the president’s policies. L’état, c’est moi.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge — or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” — to rule against the president.

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power:

[Trump’s tweet, which I can’t figure out how to get in here, reads as follows:

Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!]

Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it. So who are these people?

It certainly won’t be Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It won’t be Jeff Sessions, his new attorney general, with his long history of contempt for voting rights. It might be the courts — but Mr. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize judicial oversight in advance.

What about Congress? Well, its members like to give patriotic speeches. And maybe, just maybe, there are enough Republican senators who really do care about America’s fundamental values to cross party lines in their defense. But given what we’ve seen so far, that’s just hopeful speculation.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.

Blow and Krugman

February 6, 2017

Mr. Blow believes that the President* needs “A Lesson in Black History” and that Donald Trump has much to learn from Frederick Douglass.  First off that he’s no longer with us…  Prof. Krugman, in “Springtime for Scammers,” says they’re making financial predators great again.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week at a supposed Black History Month “listening session” at the White House, Donald Trump made this baffling statement: “I am very proud now that we have a museum on the National Mall where people can learn about Reverend King, so many other things. Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

It sounded a bit like he thought the inimitable Douglass, who died in 1895, was some lesser-known black leader who was still alive.

When Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked what Trump meant by his Douglass comments, Spicer responded:

“I think he wants to highlight the contributions that he has made. And I think through a lot of the actions and statements that he’s going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”

Assuming that the “he” in that sentence refers to Douglass, these numbskulls are actually referring to him as a living person and have absolutely no clue who Douglass is and what he means to America.

Social media had a field day with this, relentlessly mocking the team, but for me the emotion was overwhelming sadness: How could the American “president” or a White House press secretary, or any American citizen for that matter, not know who Douglass is?

Let’s be absolutely clear here: Frederick Douglass is a singular, towering figure of American history. The entire legacy of black intellectual thought and civil rights activism flows in some way through Douglass, from W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to President Barack Obama himself.

Douglass was one of the most brilliant thinkers, writers and orators America has ever produced. Furthermore, he harnessed and mastered the media of his day: Writing an acclaimed autobiography, establishing his own newspaper and becoming the most photographed American of the 19th century.

Put another way: If modern social media existed during Douglass’s time, he would have been one of its kings.

Douglass also was a friend of Susan B. Anthony and an advocate for women’s civil rights as well as the civil rights of black people, understanding even then the intersectionality of oppressions. In fact, the motto of his newspaper, The North Star, was “Right is of no Sex — Truth is of no Color — God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren.”

But perhaps one of the best reasons Trump and Spicer need to bone up on Douglass is to understand his relationship with Abraham Lincoln and to get a better sense of what true leadership looks like.

Douglass was a blistering critic of Lincoln from the beginning. In Lincoln’s first Inaugural Address, he quoted from one of his previous speeches in which he had said “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists,” and he went on to defend the Fugitive Slave Act, promising the slave states full enforcement of it as long as it was on the books.

This incensed Douglass, who said of the remarks: “Not content with the broadest recognition of the right of property in the souls and bodies of men in the slave states, Mr. Lincoln next proceeds, with nerves of steel, to tell the slaveholders what an excellent slave hound he is.”

Although Douglass’s cutting critique of Lincoln began to soften after Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Douglass continued to be unhappy throughout the Civil War about the unequal treatment of black soldiers in the Union Army. But even in the midst of this criticism, Lincoln entertained Douglass at the White House.

Although Douglass wasn’t fully satisfied with Lincoln’s positions, Douglass remarked of the meeting: “Mr. Lincoln listened with earnest attention and with very apparent sympathy, and replied to each point in his own peculiar, forcible way.”

This stands in stark contrast to Trump’s avoidance of black intellectuals and even any real critics. Trump’s “listening session” seemed to be populated only by his black appointees and supporters.

Lincoln and Douglass would go on to develop a genuine friendship and Douglass would become something of Lincoln’s conscience on the slave issue. In fact, Lincoln called Douglass “one of the most meritorious men, if not the most meritorious man, in the United States.”

That is what leadership and growth look like. Lincoln grew from the association with and counsel from his onetime critic, to become one of the greatest presidents America has ever known.

Indeed Black History Month began not as a month but a week: Negro History week, the second week of February. It was established in 1926 by noted black historian Carter G. Woodson, and choosing February was no coincidence: It honored the birthdays of Lincoln, who freed the slaves, and Douglass, who helped direct his conscience.

Trump would do well to study this history; he has much to learn from it. As the historian Woodson’s personal motto went: “It’s never too late to learn.”

Trump study?  When pigs fly.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

People keep saying that Donald Trump is a populist. I do not think that word means what they think it means.

OK, it’s true that our so-called president — hey, if he can say that about a judge who ruled against him, surely we can say that about him — is channeling the racism and bigotry of some ordinary Americans, and in so doing sticking it to squeamish elites that take the Constitution both seriously and literally. But so far his economic policies are all about empowering ethically challenged businesses to cheat and exploit the little guy.

In particular, he and his allies in Congress are making it a priority to unravel financial reform — and specifically the parts of financial reform that protect consumers against predators.

Last week Mr. Trump released a memorandum calling on the Department of Labor to reconsider its new “fiduciary rule,” which requires financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests — as opposed to, say, steering them into investments on which the advisers get big commissions. He also issued an executive order designed to weaken the Dodd-Frank financial reform, enacted in 2010 in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

Both moves are very much in line with the priorities of congressional Republicans and, of course, the financial industry. For both groups really, really hate financial regulation, especially when it helps protect families against sharp practice.

Why, after all, was the fiduciary rule created? The main issue here is retirement savings — the 401(k)’s and other plans that are Americans’ main source of retirement income over and above Social Security. To invest these funds, people have turned to financial professionals — but most probably weren’t aware that these professionals were under no legal obligation to give advice that maximized clients’ returns rather than their own incomes.

This is a big deal. A 2015 Obama administration study concluded that “conflicted investment advice” has been reducing the return on retirement savings by around one percentage point, costing ordinary Americans around $17 billion each year. Where has that $17 billion been going? Largely into the pockets of various financial-industry players. And now we have a White House trying to ensure that this game goes on.

On Dodd-Frank: Republicans would like to repeal the whole law, but probably don’t have the votes. What they can do is try to cripple enforcement, especially by undermining the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose goal is to protect ordinary families from financial scams.

Unlike other parts of Dodd-Frank, which are supposed to reduce the risk of a future financial crisis — and won’t be fully tested until the next major shock hits — the bureau is designed to deal with problems that afflict consumers in good times and bad. And by all accounts it has been a huge success, increasing transparency, reducing fees, and exposing fraud. Remember the Wells Fargo scandal, in which the bank was found to have signed millions of customers up for accounts, credit cards, and services without their consent or knowledge? This scandal only came to light thanks to the bureau.

So why are consumer protections in the Trump firing line?

Gary Cohn, the Goldman Sachs banker appointed to head Mr. Trump’s National Economic Council — populism! — says that the fiduciary rule is like “putting only healthy food on the menu” and denying people the right to eat unhealthy food if they want it. Of course, it doesn’t do anything like that. If you want a better analogy, it’s like preventing restaurants from claiming that their 1400-calorie portions are health food.

Mr. Trump offers a different explanation for his hostility to financial reform: It’s hurting credit availability. “I have so many people, friends of mine that had nice businesses, they can’t borrow money.” It would be interesting to learn what these “nice businesses” are. What we do know is that U.S. banks have generally shunned Mr. Trump’s own businesses — from which, by the way, he hasn’t separated himself at all — perhaps because of his history of defaults.

Other would-be borrowers, however, don’t seem to be having problems. Only 4 percent of the small firms surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business report themselves unsatisfied with loan availability, a historic low. Overall bank lending in the United States has been quite robust since Dodd-Frank was enacted.

So what’s motivating the attack on financial regulation? Well, there’s a lot of money at stake — money that the financial industry has been extracting from unwitting, unprotected consumers. Financial reform was starting to roll back these abuses, but we clearly now have a political leadership determined to roll back the rollback. Make financial predation great again!

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

February 3, 2017

Bobo has surpassed himself this time…  He’s extruded a thing called “A Return to National Greatness” in which he moans that the true American myth is dynamic and universal, yet the countermyth of Trump and Bannon is winning, and he also has the unmitigated gall to inform his readers that people on the left aren’t patriotic.  Maybe he should consider the differences between patriotism and jingoism…  There will be a response from a reader.  Mr. Cohen, in “United States to Australia: Get Lost,” says it is grotesque for Trump to dismiss Australia’s stranded refugees as the next “Boston bombers.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Donald the Menace,” says this isn’t a strategy; it’s a syndrome.  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

The Library of Congress’s main building is one of the most magnificent buildings in Washington, or in the country. It was built in a pivotal, tumultuous time. During the 23 years in the late 19th century that it took to design and build the structure, industrialization transformed America. More people immigrated to America than in the previous 250 years combined.

The building articulates the central animating idea that held this bursting, turbulent country together. That idea is best encapsulated in the mural under the dome of the main reading room. A series of monumental figures are depicted, each representing a great civilization in human history and what that civilization contributed to the human story.

It starts with a figure representing Egypt (written records) and then continues through Judea (religion), Greece (philosophy), Islam (physics), Italy (the fine arts), Germany (printing), Spain (discovery), England (literature), France (emancipation) and it culminates with America (science).

In that story, America is placed at the vanguard of the great human march of progress. America is the grateful inheritor of other people’s gifts. It has a spiritual connection to all people in all places, but also an exceptional role. America culminates history. It advances a way of life and a democratic model that will provide people everywhere with dignity. The things Americans do are not for themselves only, but for all mankind.

This historical story was America’s true myth. When we are children, and also when we are adults, we learn our deepest truths through myth.

Myths don’t make a point or propose an argument. They inhabit us deeply and explain to us who we are. They capture how our own lives are connected to the universal sacred realities. In myth, the physical stuff in front of us is also a manifestation of something eternal, and our lives are seen in the context of some illimitable horizon.

That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan. It was wrestled with by John Winthrop and Walt Whitman. It gave America a mission in the world — to spread democracy and freedom. It gave us an attitude of welcome and graciousness, to embrace the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and to give them the scope by which to realize their powers.

But now the myth has been battered. It’s been bruised by an educational system that doesn’t teach civilizational history or real American history but instead a shapeless multiculturalism. It’s been bruised by an intellectual culture that can’t imagine providence. It’s been bruised by people on the left who are uncomfortable with patriotism and people on the right who are uncomfortable with the federal government that is necessary to lead our project.

The myth has been bruised, too, by the humiliations of Iraq and the financial crisis. By a cultural elite that ignored the plight of the working class and thus broke faith with the basic solidarity that binds a nation.

And so along come men like Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with a countermyth. Their myth is an alien myth, frankly a Russian myth. It holds, as Russian reactionaries hold, that deep in the heartland are the pure folk who embody the pure soul of the country — who endure the suffering and make the bread. But the pure peasant soul is threatened. It is threatened by the cosmopolitan elites and by the corruption of foreign influence.

The true American myth is dynamic and universal — embracing strangers and seizing possibilities. The Russian myth that Trump and Bannon have injected into the national bloodstream is static and insular. It is about building walls, staying put. Their country is bound by its nostalgia, not its common future.

The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning. The policies that emanate from it are surprisingly popular. The refugee ban has a lot of support. Closing off trade is popular. Building the wall is a winning issue.

The Trump and Bannon anschluss has exposed the hollowness of our patriotism. It has exposed how attenuated our vision of national greatness has become and how easy it was for Trump and Bannon to replace a youthful vision of American greatness with a reactionary, alien one.

We are in the midst of a great war of national identity. We thought we were in an ideological battle against radical Islam, but we are really fighting the national myths spread by Trump, Bannon, Putin, Le Pen and Farage.

We can argue about immigration and trade and foreign policy, but nothing will be right until we restore and revive the meaning of America. Are we still the purpose-driven experiment Lincoln described and Emma Lazarus wrote about: assigned by providence to spread democracy and prosperity; to welcome the stranger; to be brother and sister to the whole human race; and to look after one another because we are all important in this common project?

Or are we just another nation, hunkered down in a fearful world?

He’s become a national disgrace.  Here’s what “chickenlover” from Massachusetts had to say to him:

“”The odd thing is that the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”
And do you know why this myth is winning? It is the result of relentless, non-stop barrage of anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigrants, anti-common sense that has been spewing from Fox News for the past two decades. It is the result of pundits like you who have been pushing the GOP agenda over the same period. It is the result of the GOP which has been unwilling to challenge this downward trend. Where were you when Obama was delegitimized from day one by Mitch McConnell and his pals? No wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.
Unfortunately, even though you helped make it, we all own it now. Why, for that matter, even in this column you write, “That American myth was embraced and lived out by everybody from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan.” Why do you stop at Reagan? You are still unwilling to include Obama as part of that rich American tradition. Why? Obama saved the American economy that was ravaged and savaged by his predecessor. He saved the auto industry. Don’t you remember?
If you as a scholar and a pundit do not see the need to include Obama in that list, why do you expect the average American will? Little wonder the Trump-Bannon myth is winning.”

Net up we have Mr. Cohen:

Let’s imagine for a moment Rex Tillerson, the newly installed secretary of state, awakening to this tweet from President Trump about an important American ally:

“Do you believe it? The Obama administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

First, the “illegal immigrants” are in fact desperate people fleeing conflict whose status as refugees has in most cases been officially recognized. Second, as refugees, they have the right, under the Geneva Conventions, of which the United States is a signatory, to be treated “without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” Third, the “thousands” are in fact about 1,250 of the 2,500 men, women and children who, for more than three years now, have been marooned on two remote South Pacific islands, Manus and Nauru, in appalling conditions that have seen suicide, deaths through negligence, a killing, and relentless mental abuse. Fourth, this “dumb deal” reflects the pressing Australian interest in finding a way out of its predicament with the refugees and the American interest in strengthening its Australian alliance at a time when United States Marines are rotating through Darwin and China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. Fifth, diplomacy is about identifying shared interests; it stands no chance when the tweeted tantrums of a tempestuous president constitute Washington’s highest-level communications with a world held in America-first contempt.

The notion must cross Tillerson’s mind that Trump’s inaccurate tweet is needless provocation of a friend; that simultaneously infuriating Asian and European allies may not be smart; and that his task will be a thankless one as Trump’s White House coterie hatches seat-of-the-pants policy and leaves his already restive State Department to deal with weighty issues in Luxembourg and the Solomon Islands.

Let’s further imagine that all this passes through Tillerson’s head before he grabs the Washington Post and discovers that Trump has taken his Australia bashing further. He has hung up on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after telling him it’s his “worst call by far” with world leaders (behind Vladimir Putin, of course), and accused Turnbull of preparing to send the next “Boston bombers” America’s way.

At which point Tillerson must really be wondering — as is the rest of the world after two weeks of fast-tracked chaos from Trump. The president wants to run the United States like his business, with scant accountability and contempt for rules. Fine, except that bankruptcy is the worst conceivable outcome for a business whereas nuclear war is the worst conceivable outcome for America and all of humanity. Trump is in way over his skis.

From the pointless, counterproductive, prejudice-reeking temporary ban on immigration from seven mainly Muslim countries to a botched Navy SEAL raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen, the same traits of haste and imprudence have been apparent. Trump is a propagator of mayhem at the head of a TV- and Twitter-driven movement whose goal is to circumvent democratic institutions through the exercise of hypnotic and disorienting power. He is only incidentally the president.

That is already clear, as is the fact that Trump’s embrace of Putin was not some weird whim but reflected a fundamental alignment of values around bigotry, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, calculated religious absolutism, 21st-century big-data autocracy and hatred of the media. The president therefore feels more “allied” with Russia than with America’s European allies, whose values run counter to his.

“The worst deal ever” — as Trump put it according to the Washington Post — was signed in September in New York by Anne C. Richard, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, and Rachel Noble, deputy secretary of Australia’s department of immigration. It was kept secret, however, until Nov. 12, four days after the election, because refugees, particularly Muslims from the Middle East, were such a sensitive issue in the campaign.

“We really want to mothball these places,” Richard recalls Australian officials telling her, referring to Manus and Nauru. They have become an acute embarrassment to Australia. The United States got help with some national security issues in return, as well as Australian commitments to take more refugees from Central America.

Poor Turnbull who’s white and conservative and might therefore have thought he could get on the right side of Trump. No way! Many of the refugees are Iranians persecuted by the Islamic Republic. There’s no surer way to drive the president to paroxysms than to suggest he extend a hand to Muslims, signed accords between allies notwithstanding.

I went to Manus last year with the photographer Ashley Gilbertson to see the suffering. It’s not easy to get in; Australia does not want prying eyes. I met a young Iranian, Benham Satah, who has a college degree in English and has languished there since Aug. 27, 2013. His roommate, another Iranian called Reza Barati, was killed by a local mob in 2014.

“Sometimes I cut myself,” Satah told me, “so that I can see my blood and remember, oh yes! I am alive.”

It is grotesque and offensive for Trump to dismiss these stranded, mistreated human beings as “Boston bombers.” Muslim equals terrorist is an idea that sullies America.

What refugees like Satah want by an overwhelming majority is not more violence but the dignity that comes with a job, a roof over their heads and decent schooling for their children. Vetting to enter the United States takes at least 18 to 24 months — one reason nobody from Manus or Nauru has moved yet despite Australian hopes they’d all be scooped up by a C-130. The vetting is already “extreme” — Trump’s word.

For Australia, Trump’s insults should be an incentive to do the right thing. The refugee deal now looks near worthless. Shut down the foul Manus and Nauru operations. Bring these people, who have suffered and been bounced around enough, to Australia. Close this chapter that recalls the darkest moments of Australian history. Cut loose from Trump’s doomsday prejudice and give Tillerson inspiration to be brave.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

But the war with China will, it seems, have to wait. First comes Australia. And Mexico. And Iran. And the European Union. (But never Russia.)

And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisismongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.

The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.

But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, the U.S. president boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?

There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House has said nothing at all about Russia’s actions. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Thanks, Comey.

Blow and Krugman

January 30, 2017

Mr. Blow says “No, Trump, Not on Our Watch” and that if  politicians won’t stand up to Trump, the American people will.  Prof. Krugman, in “Building a Wall of Ignorance,” discusses a Mexican standoff that epitomizes Trumpism.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Barack Obama was in office — remember the good old days, just over a week ago, when we didn’t wake up every morning and wonder what new atrocity was emanating from the White House — Republicans were apoplectic about his use of executive orders. They called them “unilateral edicts” and “power grabs.” As Iowa Senator Charles Grassley once said in a floor speech: “The president looks more and more like a king that the Constitution was designed to replace.”

What a difference a week makes.

Now many of those Republicans are as quiet as church mice as Donald Trump pumps out executive orders at a fevered pitch, doing exactly what he said he’d do during the campaign, for all of those who were paying attention: advancing a white nationalist agenda and vision of America, whether that be by demonizing blacks in the “inner city,” Mexicans at the border or Muslims from the Middle East.

Trump’s America is not America: not today’s or tomorrow’s, but yesterday’s.

Trump’s America is brutal, perverse, regressive, insular and afraid. There is no hope in it; there is no light in it. It is a vast expanse of darkness and desolation.

And that is a vision of America that most of the people in this country cannot and will not abide. That is a vision of America that has galvanized ordinary American citizens in opposition in a way that is almost without precedent. We are inching toward anarchy as both the people and the president refuse to back down.

Not only is Trump a literacy-lite, conspiracy-chasing, compulsively lying bigot, he is also a narcissistic workaholic who now wields the power of the presidency. You could not have conceived of a more dangerous combination of characteristics. He is the paragon of the clueless and an idol of the Ku Kluxers. Already, people feel deluged by a never-ending flood of national damage and despair. But Americans are not prone to suffering in silence. America’s period of mourning has ended; the time of anger and active opposition has dawned. The greatest two motivators of electoral activism in this country are a desire for change and durable fear: In Trump, those two are wed.

The most recent move to excite and outrage the opposition was Trump’s move to “indefinitely suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees and temporarily ban people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States,” according to a New York Times editorial.

The ban is nonsensical and likely unconstitutional, as well as chaotic and damaging to our national security interests.

As The Times noted Saturday: “Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, the seven countries targeted in the order’s 120-day visa ban, according to Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina.”

The report continued: “There was a random quality to the list of countries: It excluded Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where the founders of Al Qaeda and many other jihadist groups have originated. Also excluded are Pakistan and Afghanistan, where persistent extremism and decades of war have produced militants who have occasionally reached the United States. Notably, perhaps, the list avoided Muslim countries where Mr. Trump has major business ventures.”

Furthermore, as CNN reported on Sunday, on Friday night the Department of Homeland Security decided that the restrictions “did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.”

The report continued, however: “The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon.”

Yes, that Steve Bannon, the one who was recruited to the Trump campaign from his job as executive chairman of Breitbart News and is now Trump’s chief strategist, the one who said of Breitbart to Mother Jones in July: “We’re the platform for the alt-right.” Alt-right is just a slick, euphemistic repackaging and relabeling of white nationalists, whether they be white separatists, white supremacists or actual Nazis.

Also, as The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, Trump added Bannon to the National Security Council while removing the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is outrageous. What does Bannon know about national security? It is becoming worrisome that in this reign of bigotry, Bannon may be the brain and Trump the brawn; Bannon the spiritual president and Trump the spurious packaging.

America will not stand for this, so if obsequious conservative politicians or lily-livered liberal ones won’t sufficiently stand up to this demagogic dictator, then the American people will do the job themselves.

Over the weekend, protesters spontaneously popped up at airports across the country to send an unambiguous message: Not in our name; not on our watch. It is my great hope that this will be a permanent motif of Trump’s term. If no one else is going to fight for American values, it falls to the American people themselves to do so.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

We’re just over a week into the Trump-Putin regime, and it’s already getting hard to keep track of the disasters. Remember the president’s temper tantrum over his embarrassingly small inauguration crowd? It already seems like ancient history.

But I want to hold on, just for a minute, to the story that dominated the news on Thursday, before it was, er, trumped by the uproar over the refugee ban. As you may recall — or maybe you don’t, with the crazy coming so thick and fast — the White House first seemed to say that it would impose a 20 percent tariff on Mexico, but may have been talking about a tax plan, proposed by Republicans in the House, that would do no such thing; then said that it was just an idea; then dropped the subject, at least for now.

For sheer viciousness, loose talk about tariffs isn’t going to match slamming the door on refugees, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, no less. But the tariff tale nonetheless epitomizes the pattern we’re already seeing in this shambolic administration — a pattern of dysfunction, ignorance, incompetence, and betrayal of trust.

The story seems, like so much that’s happened lately, to have started with President Trump’s insecure ego: People were making fun of him because Mexico will not, as he promised during the campaign, pay for that useless wall along the border. So his spokesman, Sean Spicer, went out and declared that a border tax on Mexican products would, in fact, pay for the wall. So there!

As economists quickly pointed out, however, tariffs aren’t paid by the exporter. With some minor qualifications, basically they’re paid for by the buyers — that is, a tariff on Mexican goods would be a tax on U.S. consumers. America, not Mexico, would therefore end up paying for the wall.

Oops. But that wasn’t the only problem. America is part of a system of agreements — a system we built — that sets rules for trade policy, and one of the key rules is that you can’t just unilaterally hike tariffs that were reduced in previous negotiations.

If America were to casually break that rule, the consequences would be severe. The risk wouldn’t so much be one of retaliation — although that, too — as of emulation: If we treat the rules with contempt, so will everyone else. The whole trading system would start to unravel, with hugely disruptive effects everywhere, very much including U.S. manufacturing.

So is the White House actually planning to go down that route? By focusing on imports from Mexico, Mr. Spicer conveyed that impression; but he also said that he was talking about “comprehensive tax reform as a means to tax imports from countries that we have a trade deficit from.” That seemed to be a reference to a proposed overhaul of corporate taxes, which would include “adjustable border taxes.”

But here’s the thing: that overhaul wouldn’t at all have the effects he was suggesting. It wouldn’t target countries with which we run deficits, let alone Mexico; it would apply to all trade. And it wouldn’t really be a tax on imports.

To be fair, this is a widely misunderstood point. Many people who should know better believe that value-added taxes, which many countries impose, discourage imports and subsidize exports. Mr. Spicer echoed that misperception. In fact, however, value-added taxes are basically national sales taxes, which neither discourage nor encourage imports. (Yes, imports pay the tax, but so do domestic products.)

And the proposed change in corporate taxes, while differing from value-added taxation in some ways, would similarly be neutral in its effects on trade. What this means, in particular, is that it would do nothing whatsoever to make Mexico pay for the wall.

Some of this is a bit technical — see my blog for more details. But isn’t the U.S. government supposed to get stuff right before floating what sounds like a declaration of trade war?

So let’s sum it up: The White House press secretary created a diplomatic crisis while trying to protect the president from ridicule over his foolish boasting. In the process he demonstrated that nobody in authority understands basic economics. Then he tried to walk the whole thing back.

All of this should be placed in the larger context of America’s quickly collapsing credibility.

Our government hasn’t always done the right thing. But it has kept its promises, to nations and individuals alike.

Now all of that is in question. Everyone, from small nations who thought they were protected against Russian aggression, to Mexican entrepreneurs who thought they had guaranteed access to our markets, to Iraqi interpreters who thought their service with the U.S. meant an assurance of sanctuary, now has to wonder whether they’ll be treated like stiffed contractors at a Trump hotel.

That’s a very big loss. And it’s probably irreversible.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

January 27, 2017

Oh, poor, poor Bobo.  He’s got a BAD case of buyer’s remorse.  In “The Politics of Cowardice” he moans that the party of Trump is a far cry from the party of Reagan.  Actually, Bobo, not all that far.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Closing of Trump’s America,” says a rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last.  Or browns last.  Don’t forget about that moronic wall, Roger.  In “Making the Rust Belt Rustier” Prof. Krugman says that manufacturing will decline faster under President Trump.  But of course it will be Obama’s fault, right?  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a comment from “James Landi” of Salisbury, MD:

This is a column directed at high school and college students. I’m going to try to convey to you how astoundingly different the Republican Party felt when I was your age.

The big guy then was Ronald Reagan. Temperamentally, though not politically, Reagan was heir to the two Roosevelts. He inherited a love of audacity from T.R. and optimism and charm from F.D.R.

He had a sunny faith in America’s destiny and in America’s ability to bend global history toward freedom. He had a sunny faith in the free market to deliver prosperity to all. He had a sunny faith in the power of technology to deliver bounty and even protect us from nuclear missiles.

He could be very hard on big government or the Soviet Union, but he generally saw the world as a welcoming place; he looked for the good news in others and saw the arc of history bending toward progress.

When he erred it was often on the utopian side of things, believing that tax cuts could pay for themselves, believing that he and Mikhail Gorbachev could shed history and eliminate all nuclear weapons.

The mood of the party is so different today. Donald Trump expressed the party’s new mood to David Muir of ABC, when asked about his decision to suspend immigration from some Muslim countries: “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. What, you think this is going to cause a little more anger? The world is an angry place.”

Consider the tenor of Trump’s first week in office. It’s all about threat perception. He has made moves to build a wall against the Mexican threat, to build barriers against the Muslim threat, to end a trade deal with Asia to fight the foreign economic threat, to build black site torture chambers against the terrorist threat.

Trump is on his political honeymoon, which should be a moment of joy and promise. But he seems to suffer from an angry form of anhedonia, the inability to experience happiness. Instead of savoring the moment, he’s spent the week in a series of nasty squabbles about his ratings and crowd sizes.

If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”

Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005.

Trump has changed the way the Republican Party sees the world. Republicans used to have a basic faith in the dynamism and openness of the free market. Now the party fears openness and competition.

In the summer of 2015, according to a Pew Research Center poll, Republicans said free trade deals had been good for the country by 51 to 39 percent. By the summer of 2016, Republicans said those deals had been bad for America by 61 percent to 32 percent.

It’s not that the deals had changed, or reality. It was that Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and his dark fearfulness became the party’s dark fearfulness. In this case fear is not a reaction to the world. It is a way of seeing the world. It propels your reactions to the world.

As Reagan came to office he faced refugee crises, with suffering families coming in from Cuba, Vietnam and Cambodia. Filled with optimism and confidence, Reagan vowed, “We shall seek new ways to integrate refugees into our society,” and he delivered on that promise.

Trump faces a refugee crisis from Syria. And though no Syrian-American has ever committed an act of terrorism on American soil, Trump’s response is fear. Shut them out.

Students, the party didn’t used to be this way. A mean wind is blowing.

Here’s hoping that no students believe this line of horse pucky…  And here’s what “James Landi” had to say to Bobo:

“UGH! David’s alt-reality reinvents Reagan, and air-brushes out the ugly, unacceptable, cynically divisive and un American dark side of reactionary radical racist Reagan. The Philadelphia, Mississippi, “welfare queen” Reagan, the Grenada invasion Reagan, the Beirut bombing Reagan, the Iran Contra Reagan, the anti-EPA Reagan, the cynical divisive B grade movie actor who set the anti-intellectual tone and substance for what has devolved into the modern day Party of Lincoln.”

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Donald Trump is an ahistorical man. He knows nothing of European history and cares less, as his cavalier trashing of the alliance and union that ushered the Continent from its darkest hours demonstrates.

He knows little enough of American history to have chosen as his rallying cry “America First,” a slogan with a past clouded by allies-be-damned isolationism at the start of World War II. (Or perhaps that’s why he embraced it.)

The president does not even know the history of the C.I.A., as his self-regarding speech before the hallowed Memorial Wall showed. This was desecration of patriotic sacrifice through advanced narcissistic disorder.

He called the speech a “home run.”

Great. Terrific. Phenomenal. Tremendous. Fabulous. Beautiful. How Trump has hollowed out these words. How arid, even nauseating, he has made them. They mean nothing. They are space-fillers issuing with a thudding regularity from his uncurious mind, and in the end of course they are all about him. Emptying words of meaning is an essential step on the road to autocratic rule. People need to lose their bearings before they prostrate themselves.

From Trump’s White House there now seeps a kind of ignorance mixed with vulgarity and topped with meanness that I find impossible to wash from my skin. I wake up to its oleaginous texture.

This is worse than had seemed possible: Trump’s inexhaustible obsession with the crowd size at the inauguration; his constant untruths; his perverse inability to accept that he won the election, to the point that he wants to investigate the popular vote that he lost; his startling lust for torture, walls, banishment and carnage.

“The world is a total mess,” he told David Muir of ABC. Funny, I travel the world and that was not my impression a week ago.

The president does not like Muslims. That, too, is clear. It was obvious when he called during the campaign for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. It was obvious when he showed contempt for the parents of a fallen Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq. It is obvious now as he attempts to justify a planned suspension of visas for Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis and citizens of four other majority Muslim Middle Eastern and African countries, as well as a temporary ban on almost all refugees.

A rough translation of “America First” is Muslims last. “It’s not the Muslim ban,” Trump insisted to Muir. No. It’s just a ban on lots of Muslims.

Trump said, in the ABC interview, that the people to be barred “are going to come in and cause us tremendous problems.” He declared: “They’re ISIS.”

There is no credible evidence for this wild claim, a smear on entire populations. (Saudi Arabia, the source of most 9/11 terrorists, is unsurprisingly not on the list.)

In their overwhelming majority refugees are fleeing violence in their homelands, not plotting it against the United States. They do not put their little children in dinghies on the high seas because they have a choice but because they have no choice.

Screening to get into the United States is already rigorous, one reason only a tiny fraction of some 5 million Syrian refugees have come here.

A Cato Institute study of refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 and 2015 found that the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.

This is policy fed by anger and prejudice, not reason. The wall announcement has already provoked a damaging clash with Mexico. The proposed visa and refugee measures are not about keeping America safe. They are conceived to nurture an atmosphere of nationalist xenophobia.

Trump has been right to call jihadi Islamist terrorism by its name. But conflating a religion of 1.6 billion people with it is no way to fight it. As for his promise of safe areas within Syria, we will see.

I am lucky enough to live in Brooklyn Heights with a view out over the East River to lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. So while watching President Donald Trump’s dark inaugural speech a week ago I was able at the same time to glance out at the torch that symbolizes American openness and generosity of spirit.

As Trump’s “AMERICA FIRST,” “AMERICA FIRST” echoed across my living room I thought of Emma Lazarus’ words inscribed on the pedestal of the statue:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Friedrich Trump, a penniless German immigrant, was one of those “huddled masses” back in 1885. Lucky he did not attempt to enter the America taking shape under his grandson.

Over time, but not without struggle, I believe the torch will prove stronger than Trump’s fear-filled jingoistic darkness. With the stranger comes renewal. America cannot be itself without it, and Americans will fight for their idea. It is, after all, how they became who they are.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump will break most of his campaign promises. Which promises will he keep?

The answer, I suspect, has more to do with psychology than it does with strategy. Mr. Trump is much more enthusiastic about punishing people than he is about helping them. He may have promised not to cut Social Security and Medicare, or take health insurance away from the tens of millions who gained coverage under Obamacare, but in practice he seems perfectly willing to satisfy his party by destroying the safety net.

On the other hand, he appears serious about his eagerness to reverse America’s 80-year-long commitment to expanding world trade. On Thursday the White House said it was considering a 20 percent tariff on all imports from Mexico; doing so wouldn’t just pull the U.S. out of NAFTA, it would violate all our trading agreements.

Why does he want this? Because he sees international trade the way he sees everything else: as a struggle for dominance, in which you only win at somebody else’s expense.

His Inaugural Address made that perfectly clear: “For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.” And he sees punitive tariffs as a way to stop foreigners from selling us stuff, and thereby revive the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape.”

Unfortunately, as just about any economist could tell him — but probably not within his three-minute attention span — it doesn’t work that way. Even if tariffs lead to a partial reversal of the long decline in manufacturing employment, they won’t add jobs on net, just shift employment around. And they probably won’t even do that: Taken together, the new regime’s policies will probably lead to a faster, not slower, decline in American manufacturing.

How do we know this? We can look at the underlying economic logic, and we can also look at what happened during the Reagan years, which in some ways represent a dress rehearsal for what’s coming.

Now, I’m talking about the reality of Reagan, not the Republicans’ legend, which assigns all blame for the early-1980s recession to Jimmy Carter and all credit for the subsequent recovery to the sainted Ronald. In fact, that whole cycle had almost nothing to do with Reagan policies.

What Reagan did do, however, was blow up the budget deficit with military spending and tax cuts. This drove up interest rates, which drew in foreign capital. The inflow of capital, in turn, led to a stronger dollar, which made U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive. The trade deficit soared — and the long-term decline in the share of manufacturing in overall employment accelerated sharply.

Notably, it was under Reagan that talk of “deindustrialization” and the use of the term “Rust Belt” first became widespread.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Reagan-era manufacturing decline took place despite a significant amount of protectionism, especially a quota on Japanese car exports to America that ended up costing consumers more than $30 billion in today’s prices.

Will we repeat this story? The Trump regime will clearly blow up the deficit, mainly through tax cuts for the rich. (Funny, isn’t it, how all the deficit scolds have gone quiet?) True, this may not boost spending very much, since the rich will save much of their windfall while the poor and the middle class will face harsh benefits cuts. Still, interest rates have already risen in anticipation of the borrowing surge, and so has the dollar. So we do seem to be following the Reagan playbook for shrinking manufacturing.

It’s true that Mr. Trump appears ready to practice a much more extreme form of protectionism than Reagan, who avoided outright violations of existing trade deals. This could help some manufacturing industries. But it will also drive the dollar higher, hurting others.

And there’s a further factor to consider: The world economy has gotten a lot more complex over the past three decades. These days, hardly anything is simply “made in America,” or for that matter “made in China”: Manufacturing is a global enterprise, in which cars, planes and so on are assembled from components produced in multiple countries.

What will happen to this enterprise if the United States takes a meat ax to the agreements that govern international trade? There will, inevitably, be huge dislocation: Some U.S. factories and communities will benefit, but others will be hurt, bigly, by the loss of markets, crucial components or both.

Economists talk about the “China shock,” the disruption of some communities by surging Chinese exports in the 2000s. Well, the coming Trump shock will be at least as disruptive.

And the biggest losers, as with health care, will be white working-class voters who were foolish enough to believe that Donald Trump was on their side.

Or, as was pointed out in “Blazing Saddles,”:

You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.

Blow and Krugman

January 23, 2017

In “We Are Dissidents; We Are Legion” Mr. Blow says the Women’s March was an uprising.  Prof. Krugman says “Things Can Only Get Worse” and has a question:  What comes after “American carnage”?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Friday, Donald J. Trump, the embodiment, instrument and provocateur of American animus, was installed — and I use that word with purpose and displeasure — as America’s 45th president. He delivered a particularly inauspicious speech to a seemingly sparse crowd, presenting a vision for America that would best be described as aggressive atavism, a retrograde positioning of policy that threatens to drag the country back to a time of division and fear and hostility, when some stand in the light by casting others into darkness.

The speech was replete with phrases never before uttered in an Inaugural Address. Bleed, carnage, depletion and disrepair. Ripped, rusted and stolen. Tombstones, trapped and windswept. Urban, sad and Islamic. It felt at times as though he were reading aloud from a post-apocalyptic movie script.

Indeed, some have pointed out that portions of the speech sounded eerily familiar to one delivered by the movie villain Bane in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises.” Bane, too, promises: “We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you, the people,” even as he plunges the fictitious city into chaos.

There were few overtures to his opponents, let alone his enemies, little attempt to seek unity and amity. The Dean of Discord made clear his purpose and his plan: It is not to bring America together but to rip it asunder.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the speech was partly written by Steve Bannon, Trump’s white-nationalist chief strategist and senior counselor. At one point in the speech, Trump delivered the bewildering line: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” Patriotism does not drive out prejudice; to the contrary, it can actually enshrine it. No one was more patriotic than our founding fathers, and yet most of the prominent founding fathers were slave owners.

Trump set forth a portentous proposition on Friday. Saturday’s Women’s Marches across the country and around the world answered with a thundering roar.

The marches, whose participants vastly outnumbered inauguration attendees, offered a stinging rebuke to the election of a man who threatens women’s rights and boasts of grabbing women’s genitalia.

And the marches, which included quite a few men and boys as well, also represented more than that. They were a rebuke of bigotry and a call for equality and inclusion. They demonstrated the awesome power of individual outrage joined to collective action. And it was a message to America that the majority did not support this president or his plans and will not simply tuck tail and cower in the face of the threat. This was an uprising; this was a fighting back. This was a resistance.

Members of Congress, laboring under the delusion that they operate with a mandate and feeling compelled to rubber-stamp Trump’s predilections, should heed well the message those marches sent on Saturday: You are on notice. America is ticked off.

There has been much hand-wringing and navel gazing since the election about how liberalism was blind to a rising and hidden populism, about how identity politics were liberals’ fatal flaw, about how Democrats needed to attract voters who were willing to ignore Trump’s racial, ethnic and religious bigotry, his misogyny, and his xenophobia.

I call bunk on all of that.

I have given quite a few speeches since the election and inevitably some variation of this “reaching out” issue is raised in the form of a question, and my answer is always the same: The Enlightenment must never bow to the Inquisition.

Recognizing and even celebrating individual identity groups doesn’t make America weaker; it makes America stronger. Acknowledging that identity groups have not always been — and indeed, continue not to be — treated equally in this country should not be a cause for agitation, but a call to action. Parity is not born of forced erasure but rather respectful subsumption.

Janelle Monáe, singer and star of the acclaimed film “Hidden Figures,” put it this way at the march in Washington: “Continue to embrace the things that make you unique, even if it makes others uncomfortable. You are enough. And whenever you’re feeling doubt, whenever you want to give up, you must always remember to choose freedom over fear.”

If my difference frightens you, you have a problem, not me. If my discussion of my pain makes you ill at ease, you have a problem, not me. If you feel that the excavation of my history presages the burial of yours, then you have a problem, not me.

It is possible that Trump has reactivated something President Obama couldn’t maintain, and Hillary Clinton couldn’t fully tap into: A unified, mission-driven left that puts bodies into the streets. The women’s marches sent a clear signal: Your comfort will not be built on our constriction. We are America. We are loud, “nasty” and fed up. We are motivated dissidents and we are legion.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If America had a parliamentary system, Donald Trump — who spent his first full day in office having a temper tantrum, railing against accurate reports of small crowds at his inauguration — would already be facing a vote of no confidence. But we don’t; somehow we’re going to have to survive four years of this.

And how is he going to react to disappointing numbers about things that actually matter?

In his lurid, ghastly Inaugural Address, Mr. Trump portrayed a nation in dire straits — “American carnage.” The real America looks nothing like that; it has plenty of problems, but things could be worse. In fact, it’s likely that they will indeed get worse. How will a man who evidently can’t handle even the smallest blow to his ego deal with it?

Let’s talk about the predictable bad news.

First, the economy. Listening to Mr. Trump, you might have thought America was in the midst of a full-scale depression, with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.” Manufacturing employment is indeed down since 2000; but overall employment is way up, and the unemployment rate is low by historical standards.

And it’s not just one number that looks pretty good: Rising wages and the growing number of Americans confident enough to quit their jobs suggest an economy close to full employment.

What this means is that unemployment probably can’t fall much from here, so that even with good policies and good luck, job creation will be much slower than it was in the Obama years. And since bad stuff does happen, there’s a strong likelihood that unemployment will be higher four years from now than it is today.

Oh, and Trumpist budget deficits will probably widen the trade deficit, so that manufacturing employment in particular is likely to fall, not rise.

A second front on which things will almost surely get worse is health care. Obamacare caused the percentage of Americans without insurance to fall sharply, to the lowest level ever. Repeal would send the numbers right back up — 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year, eventually rising to more than 30 million, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. And no, Republicans who have spent seven years failing to come up with a real replacement won’t develop one in the next few weeks, or ever.

On a third front, crime, the future direction is unclear. The Trump vision of an urban America ravaged by “the crime and the gangs and the drugs” is a dystopian fantasy: Violent crime is, in fact, way down despite highly publicized recent murder increases in a few cities. Crime could, I suppose, fall further, but it could also rise. What we do know is that the Trump administration can’t pacify America’s urban war zones, because those zones don’t exist.

So how will Mr. Trump handle the bad news of rising unemployment, plunging health coverage, and little if any crime reduction? That’s obvious: He’ll deny reality, the way he always does when it threatens his narcissism. But will his supporters go along with his fantasy?

They might. After all, they blocked out the good news from the Obama era. Two-thirds of Trump voters believe, falsely, that the unemployment rate rose under Obama. (Three-quarters believe George Soros is paying people to protest Mr. Trump.) Only 17 percent of self-identified Republicans are aware that the number of uninsured is at a historic low. Most people thought crime was rising even when it was falling. So maybe they will block out bad news in the Trump years.

But it probably won’t be that easy. For one thing, people tend to attribute improvements in their personal situation to their own efforts; surely many voters who gained jobs over the past eight years believe that they did it despite, not thanks to, Obama policies. Will they correspondingly blame themselves, not Donald Trump, for lost jobs and health insurance? Unlikely.

On top of that, Mr. Trump made big promises during the campaign, so the risk of disillusionment is especially high.

Will he respond to bad news by accepting responsibility and trying to do better? Will he renounce his fortune and enter a monastery? That seems equally likely.

No, the insecure egomaniac-in-chief will almost surely deny awkward truths, and berate the media for reporting them. And — this is what worries me — it’s very likely that he’ll try to use his power to shoot the messengers.

Seriously, how do you think the man who compared the C.I.A. to Nazis will react when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reports a significant uptick in unemployment or decline in manufacturing jobs? What’s he going to do when the Centers for Disease Control and the Census Bureau report spiking numbers of uninsured Americans?

You may have thought that last weekend’s temper tantrum was bad. But there’s much, much worse to come.