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Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 12, 2017

In “Ode to Obama” Mr. Blow says you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.  Ain’t that the truth — Trump would pave paradise and put up a parking lot if he could make a dime.  Mr. Kristof, in “When Backpage.com Peddles Schoolgirls for Sex,” says the authorities are making progress in restricting a website as a medium for sex trafficking.  Ms. Collins ponders “Trump, Sex and Lots of Whining” and invites us to meet the luckiest victim in the world.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The dark clouds of the coming administration rolled in this week with a fury, producing a flood of strange and worrisome news.

There was the utterly terrifying confirmation hearing of Jeff Sessions as our next attorney general, at which he signaled in no uncertain terms his hostility to the protective posture that the Justice Department has taken to safeguard vulnerable populations over the last eight years.

There was the long-awaited news conference conducted by the president-elect that, predictably, turned into a circus of boasting, hubris, hostility, distraction and deflection.

And then there was the release of the unsubstantiated intelligence report, with its nausea-inducing claims, which I don’t know what to do with.

But there was a calm in the midst of the storm, a rock of familiarity and stability and strength: On Tuesday night, President Obama delivered his farewell address in his adopted hometown, Chicago, as a forlorn crowd looked on, realizing the magnitude of the moment, realizing the profundity of its loss.

As the old saying goes: You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Whether you have approved of the Obama presidency as a matter of policy or not, it is impossible to argue that Obama was not a man of principle. Whether you agree with individual decisions or the content of his rhetoric, it is impossible to argue that he did not conduct himself with dignity and respect and that he did not lead the country with those values as a guiding light.

I have not always agreed with the president’s positions or tactics, and this feels normal to me. Freethinking people are bound to disagree occasionally, even if a vast majority of their values align.

I was particularly frustrated with what I believed was his misreading and underestimation of the intensity of the opposition he faced, and his approach of being a gentleman soldier in a guerrilla war. I was harsh in my critique; some would say too harsh. In 2009, I wrote: “The president wears outrage like another man’s suit. It doesn’t quite fit.” In 2011, I called him “a robotic Sustainer-in-Chief.”

But none of those differences in opinions about strategy injured in any way my profound respect for the characteristics of the man we came to take for granted: bracingly smart, exceptionally well educated, literate in the grand tradition of the great men of letters. He was scholarly, erudite, well read and an adroit writer.

And he was an orator for the ages. We got so used to elegant, sometimes masterly speechifying, that I will admit I sometimes tuned it out. We had an abundance of riches in that regard.

But listening to the president’s farewell address, I was hit with the force of a brawler that the decency and dignity, the solemnity and splendor, the loftiness and literacy that Obama brought to the office was extraordinary and anomalous, the kind of thing that each generation may only hope to have in a president.

In a way, it was the small things, the way he made reference to Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird” in his discussion of race relations in this country. It was the ease of confidence that comes from having read the book and not just the speechwriter’s script.

That made me think of the two presidents who will bracket Obama: George W. Bush, who Karl Rove claims was a voracious reader, but whose articulation and disposition betrayed a man struggling for intellectual adequacy, and Donald Trump, a man who comes across as possessing more anger than acumen and whose ghostwriter said of him: “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”

Even more impressive is Obama’s skill for raising and parsing delicate issues like race, so that all of the people involved feel respected and represented, so that all participants in the debate feel that they have been truly heard and seen.

He hasn’t always gotten this right. No human being has always gotten everything right. Holding him to that impossible standard hardly seems fair. But he started from a very strong and respectable position and has grown even more steady and sure from there.

So as the end of his presidency draws close, America is confronted with the reality of what is being lost. It is no wonder that a Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday found that “American voters approve 55–39 percent of the job President Barack Obama is doing, his best approval rating in seven years.” For comparison, Trump’s approval rating as the president-elect is only 37 percent.

Obama wasn’t perfect, but neither is anyone — you or I — and neither was any other president. But Obama is a good man and a good president. Some would argue that he was great on both counts.

We will remember that — and miss it — when Trump’s whirlwind of scandal, conflict, crudeness, boorishness and vindictiveness barrels into Washington.

We can but pray that the country survives.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

As a 16-year-old high school sophomore living in Boston, Asia Graves was sold on the internet “like a pizza,” she recalls, handed over to be raped by strange men every day.

Along with thousands of other girls, she was sold through what amounts to an online brothel called Backpage. It dominates the online sex trade and is implicated in almost three-quarters of the reports of child trafficking in the United States.

Yet this week offers a moment to celebrate. Under political and legal pressure, Backpage on Monday closed its “adult” advertising section, used to peddle women and children for sex. There’s also an overdue effort to hold its executives criminally and civilly liable.

“There’s been a lot of progress,” notes Graves, who eventually escaped her pimp — but only after he gouged her face with a potato peeler and stomped on her, breaking her jaw. She was cheering this week as a Senate subcommittee held hearings on Backpage and discussed tightening the law on websites like it.

I’ve been writing about sex trafficking since the 1990s, because at its worst it’s an echo of slavery. It’s also a topic rife with hypocrisy. We denounced the Catholic Church and Penn State for tolerating child sexual abuse, but we have collectively tolerated websites like Backpage that sell children for sex.

That has steadily been changing. Credit card companies stopped processing payments for ads in Backpage, undermining its business model. Kamala Harris, then California’s attorney general and now its new senator, filed criminal charges in December against Backpage executives, with arraignment scheduled for this month. Civil suits in Washington State against Backpage are proceeding. A film about trafficking, “I Am Jane Doe,” opens in theaters next month and shines a light on Backpage as “the Walmart of human trafficking.”

Most important, a Senate subcommittee, led by Rob Portman, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, has done outstanding work investigating Backpage and showing how it achieved a valuation of more than half a billion dollars by working with human traffickers.

A devastating new subcommittee report shows that the company protects pimps from their carelessness by deleting hints that a girl is underage. For example, if a pimp tries to post an ad for a “Lolita,” “little girl,” “school girl” or “amber alert,” those terms are automatically stripped from the ad — but it is still posted, so the girl will still be sold for sex.

One Backpage document indicated that by 2010, more than 70 percent of its ads in the adult section were being edited like that, suggesting that the company was far more involved in manipulating content than it ever let on.

Sure, some people selling sex are adults acting on their own to make money, and that’s not a concern of mine. If Backpage carefully verified names and ages, I’d be fine with that. But Backpage has more stringent rules for selling a dog than for selling a kid.

I’ve written repeatedly about Backpage over the years because the stories haunt me. My first column about Backpage involved a 13-year-old girl whom I called Baby Face. Her pimp had kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee, and she was hurting and bleeding and couldn’t bear another rape, but her pimp sold her on Backpage anyway. He took her to an apartment building and waited outside after telling her which apartment to go to.

Terrified and desperate, Baby Face instead pounded on the door of a different apartment. When a surprised woman answered, Baby Face asked for a phone and called her mom and then 911. Her pimp went to prison, but Backpage simply profited from the sale, as it always has.

Look, human trafficking is a complicated issue. If Backpage is put out of business, other websites may fill the void, and indeed, when Backpage closed its adult section, ads selling sex immediately moved over to the site’s dating section.

We need Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act to clarify that companies like Backpage don’t get protections when they permit pimps to sell kids on their websites. There is a mounting bipartisan effort to pass such an amendment, and I hope President-elect Donald Trump will show leadership on this as well. We also need local police departments and prosecutors to go after pimps and johns, rather than sometimes targeting the children who are the victims.

One mom, Nacole (she didn’t want her full name used to protect her family’s privacy), told me how her 15-year-old daughter was sold for more than three months on Backpage.

“How could such a horrific, morally bankrupt business model find success in America?” she asked at the Senate hearing. She said her daughter had been advertised on the website as a ‘Weekend Special.’”

It’s too late to protect that girl, who is still struggling to recuperate. But when children are sold for sex online as weekend specials, they’re not the ones who should be ashamed. We all should be.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Finally, Donald Trump held a press conference. I know you want to hear the sex-in-Russia part.

The world learned this week about memos from a retired British intelligence officer on relations between the Trump campaign and the Russians. They included some speculation about whether there were compromising videos of Trump cavorting in a Russian hotel that might explain his enthusiastic support for Vladimir Putin.

The report wasn’t prepared by our intelligence agencies — it was opposition research done on contract for some other campaigns. It had been bouncing around Washington for a while. You didn’t hear about it because nobody could confirm any of the allegations.

But a summary of the memos showed up in the briefing Trump got from the intelligence agencies last week. Wouldn’t you have liked to be there to see the reaction?

Then a version of the report showed up online, and naturally it came up Wednesday at Trump’s press conference.

About that press conference. Here are some of the things we learned:

■ The reason he hasn’t shown up to answer questions from reporters since July is “inaccurate news.”

■ The Russians don’t have any secret tapes of him behaving badly in a hotel room because every time he goes to hotels abroad, he warns everybody: “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras.” Of everything Trump said during the press conference, this was perhaps the most convincing.

■ He is not going to divest himself of his businesses, but his two adult sons will be running them. He was just doing this out of his ethical heart, since there are no conflict-of-interest rules for the president. (“… as president I could run the Trump Organization — great, great company. And I could run the company, the country. I’d do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.”)

■ He’ll release his taxes once the audit is finished. (You remember that audit. Its friends call it Godot.)

■ The inauguration is going to be “a beautiful event” because “we have great talent.” (Military bands were mentioned.)

■ “If Putin likes Donald Trump I consider that an asset, not a liability.”

■ “Over the weekend I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai.”

He was all over the place. It was, in a way, a great strategy. We’ve been waiting for a long time to hear how Trump would deal with his businesses, and his refusal to divest drove ethics watchdogs crazy. But on Wednesday, the whole topic got drowned in the hubbub over the leaked report. And Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. And his theory on hotel cameras.

This kind of rapid-fire diversion could be the work of a political genius, but in fact it’s just how our next president’s mind naturally seems to operate. It bounces hither and yon. The only ongoing focus is what it all means to Trump. Did he look good? How was the crowd? Did anyone betray him?

He was definitely playing the victim when it came to the leaked report. He blamed the intelligence services, which he compared, with great originality and careful choice of words, to Nazis.

Keep in mind that although government investigators have been looking into these allegations for a long time, they never became public during the campaign. “I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not, in an open forum like this,” F.B.I. Director James Comey said during one of the multitudinous Senate hearings this week.

This is, of course, the same guy who told Congress — 11 days before the election – that the F.B.I. was investigating Hillary Clinton emails that wound up on a laptop owned by Anthony Weiner, a.k.a. “Carlos Danger,” estranged husband of her aide and world-famous sex texter.

The F.B.I. later announced it had found nothing. Meanwhile, people who were already voting in some states had been reminded to connect Clinton with a guy who sent pictures of his private parts to strange women. Clinton thinks it cost her the election. There’s no way to tell. She got nearly three million more votes than Trump, but by the rules we live under, she lost. End of story.

Trump is never going to admit his win was anything but a record-shattering triumph. But his preening, and his whining about being persecuted by the intelligence services, really twists the knife.

Since the election, the media and many Democratic politicians have wrung their hands over their failure to pay attention to the legitimate anger in the Trump-tilting parts of the country. And good for them.

But it’s time to remember that there are about 66 million Clinton voters who have a right to be angry, too.

Brooks and Krugman

January 6, 2017

Bobo has written what one commenter called “one of the most bizarre columns to ever emerge from David Brooks’ quill.”  In “The Home Buying Decision” he babbles that choosing where you rest your head is a story of falling in love and knowing yourself.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Age of Face Policy,” says hyping the trivial obscures reality.  Here’s Bobo:

I’ve been thinking about the big decisions in life: How do people choose careers, colleges, spouses and towns. Of those decisions, buying a home ranks with the most difficult.

It is difficult emotionally. Like a lot of the biggest decisions, it is more emotional than coldly rational. People generally don’t select a house; they fall in love with it.

Part of that falling-in-love process is aesthetic: the sense you get within 10 seconds of walking into a place that it just feels happy and right. Part is aspirational: When people fall in love with a house, they aren’t really falling in love with the walls and the roof; they are falling in love with a beautiful vision of their future lives.

That process of falling in love is confusing and mysterious. When you’re buying a house, you’re making a stressful major financial decision based on a set of emotions you can’t control, don’t fully understand and can’t pin down in any concrete way.

Cupid’s housing arrow has a tendency to strike you unawares. You walk into a place and just start behaving differently. You find yourself talking about where you’re going to put your furniture; you feel defensive when the Realtor mentions some of the place’s flaws; you feel the urge to brag about the house to your friends; you feel comfortable walking into the bedrooms and bathrooms, even on the first tour; you feel bereft at the thought of not having it. You’re just buying an object, but your heart is suddenly on the line.

Choosing a house is also difficult psychologically. The whole process forces you to separate what you think you want from what you really want. Realtors have a phrase, “Buyers lie,” because at the start of the process so many people don’t know what they desire.

You may have dreams of being the sort of person who has a fantastically eclectic house, filled with beautiful and exotic objects and where you can host squads of people for big dinners and parties; and that you can have a house that is a crossroads for diverse populations.

But when you actually survey the homes you are drawn to, you realize that you in fact love your privacy; that you don’t care enough about interior design to spend years searching for the fascinating objets; that in real life the thought of neighbors constantly coming over fills you with exhaustion; that a sense of quiet, tranquillity and privacy is more important to you than the frenetic chaos that comes with running Grand Central Station.

House hunting is cognitively challenging. At some point the inspections, the appraisal and the price negotiation impose cold rigor on this hot process. You don’t know what the seller (that jerk!) is thinking, or how exactly you are getting shafted in the process (though you are!). At some point the head has to check and set boundaries on the heart, employing certain mental tricks to self-distance. For example:

How do you make the major decisions about offers and conditions? Pretend you are advising a friend, not yourself.

How do you know you’ve fairly sampled the market and haven’t missed a better house somewhere out there? At the start, tell yourself you’re going to see 50 homes total. Visit 18 without making an offer on any of them. Then make an offer on the next house that’s better than the first 18.

How do you force yourself to remember in the middle of a negotiation that you’ve got to be willing to walk away? Remind yourself that this is not a narrow-framed binary buy-or-not-buy choice. There are many other housing options out there on the market.

Finally, house hunting is morally difficult. This is where Donald Trump comes in. We’ve become a ferociously fragmented country. People move close to people just like themselves. Every town becomes a cultural ghetto while Americans become strangers to one another and the civic fabric lies in ruins. People feel more comfortable in their insular neighborhoods, but self-segregation is damaging to one’s own open-mindedness and to the country at large. In 2017 it’s probably necessary to put a moral onus on realty decisions, to be seriously bothered by the temptation to talk about diversity but move to homogeneity.

The process of house hunting focuses your attention on the wrong things. It focuses your mind on the features of the house rather than on the features of your life. Think of all the people who fall for some expansive far-off home, without counting the cost of a long commute. They’ve got a happy home but a miserable existence.

It focuses on the features of the house, not on the social relationships that will happen in them, which is all you’ll remember decades hence. Choosing this or that house has only a moderate effect on joyfulness. The neighborhood you choose, and the social fabric you enter, is more important than the structure you adore.

Let us all remember that Bobo rattles around in a $4 million house with “vast spaces for entertaining…”  Here’s what “Socrates” had to say:

“David Brooks has been thinking about the big material decisions in his privileged life while the country he resides in and the poltical party he has cheerleaded for prepares to shred basic health insurance for tens of millions of his countrymen.

Do I want I want to live in the Alt-White House or my golden tower of greed, says the world’s most famous grifter promising to return America’s healthcare-deprived masses backward to the glory of ‘free-market’ health insurance that produced the world’s most systematic economic violence and price-extortion of 320 million terrorized Americans.

Do I want golden 0.1% toilets…or healthcare dignity for my fellow Americans ?

It’s an age-old American puzzle.

Isn’t Greed Over People morally justifiable if you can just pretend that America’s glaring failures in basic humancy, livable wages, basic health care, voting rights, and representative government are nonexistent ?

Isn’t one’s own adorable ego preferable to the drudgery of having to think about the society we are members of ?

Should I have walk-in closets….and shouldn’t we force transgender people back into closets ?

Should I get a pool….and drown government and the public safety in it ?

Should I spend my new 0.1% $1 million tax cut on a new yacht or a new playground in Tuscany while we cut the food stamps program and Christmas-carol down a right-wing insane asylum ?

These are difficult questions to answer, Lord Brooks.

Let Greed Over People always be your guiding light.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Thursday, at a rough estimate, 75,000 Americans were laid off or fired by their employers. Some of those workers will find good new jobs, but many will end up earning less, and some will remain unemployed for months or years.

If that sounds terrible to you, and you’re asking what economic catastrophe just happened, the answer is, none. In fact, I’m just assuming that Thursday was a normal day in the job market.

The U.S. economy is, after all, huge, employing 145 million people. It’s also ever-changing: Industries and companies rise and fall, and there are always losers as well as winners. The result is constant “churn,” with many jobs disappearing even as still more new jobs are created. In an average month, there are 1.5 million “involuntary” job separations (as opposed to voluntary quits), or 75,000 per working day. Hence my number.

But why am I telling you this? To highlight the difference between real economic policy and the fake policy that has lately been taking up far too much attention in the news media.

Real policy, in a nation as big and rich as America, involves large sums of money and affects broad swathes of the economy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would snatch away hundreds of billions in insurance subsidies to low- and middle-income families and cause around 30 million people to lose coverage, would certainly qualify.

Consider, by contrast, the story that dominated several news cycles a few weeks ago: Donald Trump’s intervention to stop Carrier from moving jobs to Mexico. Some reports say that 800 U.S. jobs were saved; others suggest that the company will simply replace workers with machines. But even accepting the most positive spin, for every worker whose job was saved in that deal, around a hundred others lost their jobs the same day.

In other words, it may have sounded as if Mr. Trump was doing something substantive by intervening with Carrier, but he wasn’t. This was fake policy — a show intended to impress the rubes, not to achieve real results.

The same goes for the hyping of Ford’s decision to add 700 jobs in Michigan — or for that matter, Mr. Trump’s fact-challenged denunciation of General Motors for manufacturing the Chevy Cruze in Mexico (that factory mainly serves foreign markets, not the U.S.).

Did the incoming administration have anything to do with Ford’s decision? Can political pressure change G.M.’s strategy? It hardly matters: Case-by-case intervention from the top is never going to have a significant impact on a $19 trillion economy.

So why are such stories occupying so much of the media’s attention?

The incoming administration’s incentive to engage in fake policy is obvious: It’s the natural counterpart to fake populism. Mr. Trump won overwhelming support from white working-class voters, who believed that he was on their side. Yet his real policy agenda, aside from the looming trade war, is standard-issue modern Republicanism: huge tax cuts for billionaires and savage cuts to public programs, including those essential to many Trump voters.

So what can Mr. Trump do to keep the scam going? The answer is, showy but trivial interventions that can be spun as saving a few jobs here or there. Substantively, this will never amount to more than a rounding error in a giant nation. But it may well work as a P.R. strategy, at least for a while.

Bear in mind that corporations have every incentive to go along with the spin. Suppose that you’re a C.E.O. who wants to curry favor with the new administration. One thing you can do, of course, is steer business to Trump hotels and other businesses. But another thing you can do is help generate Trump-friendly headlines.

Keeping a few hundred jobs in America for a couple of years is a pretty cheap form of campaign contribution; pretending that the administration persuaded you to add some jobs you actually would have added anyway is even cheaper.

Still, none of this would work without the complicity of the news media. And I’m not talking about “fake news,” as big a problem as that is becoming; I’m talking about respectable, mainstream news coverage.

Sorry, folks, but headlines that repeat Trump claims about jobs saved, without conveying the essential fakeness of those claims, are a betrayal of journalism. This is true even if, as often happens, the articles eventually, quite a few paragraphs in, get around to debunking the hype: many if not most readers will take the headline as validation of the claim.

And it’s even worse if headlines inspired by fake policy crowd out coverage of real policy.

It is, I suppose, possible that fake policy will eventually produce a media backlash — that news organizations will begin treating stunts like the Carrier episode with the ridicule they deserve. But nothing we’ve seen so far inspires optimism.

Collins, solo

December 3, 2016

In “Trump, Finally Explained” Ms. Collins says it’s not real unless you see it on TV.  Here she is:

Do you remember “50 First Dates”? It was a Drew Barrymore movie about a woman with short-term amnesia who wakes up every morning with no memory whatsoever of the day that went before.

I am thinking it’s the perfect Donald Trump analogy.

In the past, I’ve always presumed that when Trump completely changed his position on health care or the Mexican wall or nuclear weapons in Japan, it was due to craven political opportunism. But it’s much more calming to work under the assumption that he doesn’t remember anything that happened before this morning.

Think about it next time you hear him bragging about his big margin of victory. “We won in a landslide. That was a landslide,” he told a crowd in Ohio on Thursday. It was perhaps the first time in history that a candidate used those terms after receiving 2.5 million votes fewer than his competitor.

It’s stupendously irritating, unless you work under the assumption that he no longer recalls the real story.

This week, Trump was on a victory lap in Indiana, where United Technologies just agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs at a Carrier gas-furnace factory that had been slated to be moved to Mexico. Trump had repeatedly vowed to save the Carrier jobs during the campaign, and even though there is no reason to believe this will have any effect whatsoever on other jobs in other factories, it seemed like a nice symbolic win.

But during his remarks to his ebullient fans, Trump cheerfully explained that he had no memory whatsoever of having promised to protect the Carrier workers. Until he heard it on TV.

Trump told the folks in Indiana that he had been watching the news one night last week and saw a feature in which a Carrier worker said he was not worried about the company’s plans to move his job to Mexico because Donald Trump had promised to save it.

“I said, ‘I wonder if he’s being sarcastic, because this ship has sailed.’”

But no, Trump said that he then watched a clip of Donald Trump the candidate, “and he made the statement that Carrier’s not going anywhere, they’re not leaving.”

What a surprise for Donald Trump! Who then felt he needed to deliver, and then made a call to Greg Hayes, the head of U.T.C.

Nobody believes Trump’s story about having won the day by promising Hayes that in his administration, businesses would get so many breaks on taxes and regulation, they’d have no incentive to move to a country where workers cost about $3 an hour.

But the bottom line is that our next president is entirely a creature of the moment. So much so that he had no problem wiping one of his most publicized campaign promises out of his mind the second he made it.

Once he heard it on TV, Trump said he did recall vowing to save the Carrier jobs, “but that was a euphemism.”

It was not a euphemism, which is an effort to substitute a milder term for something harsh or displeasing. Trump seemed to have another word in mind. Perhaps “lie.” But it’s easier for me to deal with the idea that it slipped his mind.

He is just like Leonard, the hero of the movie “Memento,” who had to tattoo the clues to a murder on his arm because he couldn’t remember anything. Although Leonard made way more effort.

I am not the only person trying to come up with an overarching explanation for Trump’s failure to keep a constant position, but I think I’ve got the most flattering theory.

Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told a postelection panel this week that the media’s negative response to his candidate’s constantly switching stories was due to an insistence on taking him “so literally.”

American voters, Lewandowski continued, understood “that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”

Some of you may find it disturbing that one of Trump’s chief apologists was basically saying that he talks policy like a drunk at happy hour. Some of you may hear Trump constantly contradicting today what he said yesterday and decide he’s an idiot.

From now on I’m going to try to think of him as a little bit like my dog, Frieda. Frieda is extremely intelligent, but her memory is only good for about 90 seconds.

When you listen to Trump’s Inaugural Address, or his first State of the Union, keep reminding yourself that he’s reserving the right to forget everything he’s said as soon as he says it. No way we can believe him long term. Unless he tattoos it on his arm.

Correction: December 2, 2016 An earlier version of this column misstated the problem of a character in the movie “50 First Dates.” Each day she has no memory of the day before, not the year before.

 

Krugman’s blog, 11/29/16

November 30, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “How Many People Just Voted Themselves Out Of Health Care? (Updated) (Updated Again) (And Again)”:

My original update was right! Screwed up dates. So it’s back to around 5 1/2 million Trump chumps.

Gah: technical issues involving changes in survey. I now have white-alone, no bachelors declining from 27 million in 2013 to 21.5 million in 2015. So we’re back to a number like 3.5 million.

Update: It turns out that I can do a lot better than this, using the Census CPS table creator. Here’s what I have now: in 2013, 27 million whites without a bachelor’s degree were uninsured. By 2015, that was down to 18.5 million. So we’re talking about 8.5 million working-class whites who stand to lose health insurance under Trump. If two-thirds of those losers-to-be voted Trump, we’re looking at 5.6 million people who basically destroyed their own lives.

As Greg Sargent points out, the choice of Tom Price for HHS probably means the death of Obamacare. Never mind the supposed replacement; it will be a bust. So here’s the question: how many people just shot themselves in the face?

My first pass answer is, between 3.5 and 4 million. But someone who’s better at trawling through Census data can no doubt do better.

Here’s my calculation: we start with the Census-measured decline in uninsurance among non-Hispanic whites, which was 6 million between 2013 and 2015. Essentially all of those gains will be lost if Price gets his way.

How many of those white insurance-losers voted for Trump? Whites in general gave him 57 percent of their votes. Whites without a college degree — much more likely to have been uninsured pre-Obama — gave him 66 percent. Apportioning the insurance-losers using these numbers gives us 3.42 million if we use the overall vote share, or 3.96 million if we use the non-college vote share.

There are various ways this calculation could be off, in either direction. Also, maybe we should add a million Latinos who, if we believe the exit polls, also voted to lose coverage. But it’s likely to be in the ballpark. And it’s pretty awesome.

Cohen and Collins

September 24, 2016

In “Worst of the Trumps” Mr. Cohen says Syrian refugees are not a threat to America, they are the lifeblood of America.  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, Presidential Dog Days” is remembering Seamus and  introducing Alibi the horse and Ginger the chicken.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

When a presidential campaign often inhabits the gutter it’s not easy to establish its low point.

We’ve seen Donald Trump vilify Muslims, Mexicans and women. We’ve seen him indulge airy suggestions that rifle-bearing Americans might like to shoot Hillary Clinton. We’ve seen him belabor the lie that President Obama was not born in the United States — until he recanted. For Trump, the low road to the White House is paved with boorishness. But perhaps his son Donald Trump Jr. set the nadir this week when he compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles.

A caption accompanying a photograph of the candy said: “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” Trump Jr. tweeted, “This image says it all.”

Where to begin? With the fact that human beings are not Skittles? With the fact that after more than five years of war 4.8 million Syrians are refugees and 6.1 million are internally displaced and Trump Jr., even with his coddled New York existence, can surely make the calculation that this amounts to almost 2.5 million more human beings than live in the five boroughs?

With the fact that you do not flee your home because you have a choice (like choosing between Skittles and M&Ms after a Manhattan dinner party) but because you no longer have one? With the fact that, according to a Cato Institute study of refugees admitted to the United States between 1975 and 2015, the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion? With the fact that Syrians want to work, make a living, put their kids in decent schools, and recover their dignity, just like the rest of us?

Or perhaps with the fact that comparing Syrians to Skittles carries echoes of the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher comparing Jews to mushrooms in a popular children’s book that posited the ticklish dilemma of how to distinguish poisonous toadstools from edible fungus; and has a mother saying to her son Franz:

“Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushroom can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk.”

We all know, even the Trumps know, that the door into the United States was closed to desperate European Jews trying to escape the Holocaust.

If I may be pardoned for extending an awful analogy, I’d suggest to the Trumps that a better caption would read: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three of them would turn out to be Sergey Brin, Elon Musk and Pierre Omidyar, would you take a handful?”

The co-founder of Google, co-founder of Tesla, and founder of eBay were all immigrants. Steve Jobs’ biological father was a Syrian immigrant. In fact, earlier this year, the National Foundation for American Policy found that 51 percent of the country’s start-up companies valued at over $1 billion had at least one immigrant founder. A study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of governors and business leaders, found that in 2013 more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including seven of the world’s 10 most valuable brands, were started by immigrants or their children.

The strength of the United States is its creative churn. In contrast to European states, it is hard-wired to reinvention through immigration. When Trump traffics in fear about immigrants, whether Muslim or Mexican, he guts America of its greatness and turns his back on its singular idea.

The American response to the Syrian crisis has been paltry — almost 12,000 refugees admitted since the war began, or 0.25 percent of the total. Part of the slowness has come from the rigor of the vetting process. But what do the Trumps care? They are concerned with just one message: Muslim equals danger.

Let’s see now. Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was a German immigrant. He arrived in the United States in October 1885. For decades, the family lied: They said he hailed from Sweden. In his book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump says his grandfather “came here from Sweden as a child.” The family historian, John Walter, explained that Trump’s father, Fred, “had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn’t a good thing to be German in those days.”

Make up stories: It’s the Trump way. So here was a German-American posing as a Swedish-American opting not to rent to African-Americans.

Friedrich Trump, the immigrant, was young. He was penniless. He came not from Sweden but from Bismarck’s recently formed nation state in the middle of a turbulent Europe. A U.S. immigration officer allowed him into the United States in 1885 — not a decision without risk.

But an American decision taken in the spirit the Trumps now trample with cavalier untruth and vile innuendo.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

I think it’s time to talk about the presidential candidates’ pets.

Look, you need a break. And everybody — or almost everybody — likes an animal story. I’m not quite sure about Donald Trump, but we’ll get to him in a minute.

Pets, particularly dogs, pop up all the time in White House lore. Richard Nixon might never have even gotten there if he hadn’t used Checkers the cocker spaniel as a diversion from a campaign finance scandal. Lyndon Johnson posed — for reasons we will never understand — picking up his beagle by the ears. The décor at one Obama White House holiday party was many variations on the theme of Bo. This tradition goes way back. James Garfield had a Newfoundland named Veto. Calvin Coolidge seems to have acquired four cats, seven birds, nine dogs, two lion cubs, a raccoon, a bear, a wallaby, an antelope and 13 ducks.

I used to enjoy occasionally pointing out that Mitt Romney had once driven his family to Canada with Seamus the Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. A campaign consultant told me that the Seamus story elicited stronger reactions from focus groups than any other aspect of the 2012 campaign.

Donald Trump doesn’t have any pets, and the animal anecdotes about him seem to be … unsettling. Clinton has had a number of dogs and cats, but their stories are generally … kind of boring. While she was first lady, Clinton wrote a book called “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.” In it, you can learn that Socks the cat’s tail was one foot long.

Socks, the most famous of the Clinton pets, has since passed away. So has Buddy the Labrador retriever, who was replaced by another chocolate Lab named — yes! — Seamus. This is a total coincidence. Right now the Clintons have a couple of fuzzy little dogs along the poodle line.

If Trump has ever in his life had a pet, his campaign doesn’t know about it. There’s some question, in fact, about whether he’s ever even had an animal friend. For a while, there was a story about Trump begging for prayers for a Lab named Spinee who was undergoing major surgery. I am very, very sorry to tell you that this appears to be a total fabrication.

There are two colorful stories about Trump’s previous encounters with animals in books written by ex-employees.

The first goes back to the 1980s, when Trump was in his first bloom of glitzy celebrity and acquired a promising 2-year-old racehorse named Alibi. John O’Donnell, a former Trump casino president, wrote that the colt fell apart when Trump insisted, despite the trainer’s objections, that Alibi be worked out even though a virus was going through his barn. O’Donnell claimed Alibi got very sick as a result — so ill he eventually had to have some of his hooves amputated and was retired. Then, O’Donnell said, Trump announced that he was not buying a defective animal and backed out of the sale.

“Jack O’Donnell is a disgruntled former employee, and this is a totally unsubstantiated and false claim,” said a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.

You decide who’s right. The one thing we do know for sure is that when Trump first bought Alibi, he changed the poor horse’s name to D. J. Trump.

The other, much less depressing story involves a chicken named Ginger, who once played tic-tac-toe with Trump at a casino near Palm Springs. Like so very many things in our world, the casino had Trump’s name on it, but it was owned by someone else — in this case an Indian tribe.

Perhaps you have never seen a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken, but they’ve been around a long time. According to Gary Green, another former Trump casino executive who wrote a book, a computer under the board lit up a square, and if the chicken pecked it, said bird got some corn. Hey, it’s a job.

After the game was over — Trump won — Green ran an advertising campaign that featured Trump firing Ginger and starting a Chicken Apprentice contest for a replacement. While Ginger’s fate was not described explicitly, the casino started serving chicken wings as part of the promotion.

Beyond that, connections between Trump and the animal kingdom seem pretty sparse — if you ignore Jane Goodall’s recent comment to The Atlantic that his performances “remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance issues.” Bloggers have pointed out that Trump tweets a lot of unflattering dog references. (“… cheated on him like a dog …”) It is true that he does seem to specialize in insult via canine analogy. I once got a letter from him suggesting I resembled a dog. He did not seem to be thinking about my large, friendly eyes.

If he wins the election, we could have the first president in history to refuse to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey.

Hell, he’ll probably invite The Snowbilly Grifter to cut its head off…

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

September 22, 2016

In “The Folly of the Protest Vote” Mr. Blow says either Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United States. Not Jill Stein. Not Gary Johnson.  Mr. Kristof, in “The Best News You Don’t Know,” says the world is winning the war on extreme poverty.  Ms. Collins, in “Ready, Aim — Voting,” says the hottest political ad of the season shows a candidate assembling an assault rifle blindfolded.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, after I delivered a speech at the impressive campus of Morgan State University, a historically black college in northeast Baltimore, a woman approached the mike during the question-and-answer period to raise an issue that she and I both found frustrating: What to say to young people, particularly young African-Americans, who have decided either not to vote in the forthcoming presidential election or to cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate who will most assuredly lose?

This is a very real issue this cycle. Many of these young people feel that there is no good choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

On Sept. 4, The New York Times published an article pointing out the devastating impact this lack of enthusiasm could have on Clinton’s prospects:

“Young African-Americans, like all voters their age, are typically far harder to drive to the polls than middle-aged and older Americans. Yet with just over two months until Election Day, many Democrats are expressing alarm at the lack of enthusiasm, and in some cases outright resistance, some black millennials feel toward Mrs. Clinton.”

The article continued:

“Their skepticism is rooted in a deep discomfort with the political establishment that they believe the 68-year-old former first lady and secretary of state represents. They share a lingering mistrust of Mrs. Clinton and her husband over criminal justice issues. They are demanding more from politicians as part of a new, confrontational wave of black activism that has arisen in response to police killings of unarmed African-Americans.”

Furthermore, as Farai Chideya pointed out on FiveThirtyEight:

“An ABC News/Washington Post poll released last week found that among black Americans of all ages, Clinton is leading Trump 93 percent to 3. But an August survey of young voters by GenForward found that 60 percent of black Americans aged 18 to 30 supported Clinton — or about 30 percentage points less than African-Americans at large. Fourteen percent of black millennials said they would not vote, 5 percent said they would vote for the Green or Libertarian candidates, and 2 percent planned to vote for Trump.”

When I am confronted by the “not voting” or “protest voting” crowd, their argument often boils down to one of principle: They can’t possibly vote for Trump or Clinton because both are flawed in their own ways.

I know immediately that they have bought into the false equivalency nonsense, and additionally are conflating the casting of a ballot with an endorsement of a candidate’s shortcomings.

Both ideas are incredibly problematic and potentially self-destructive.

First — and this cannot be said enough — Clinton and Trump are not equally bad candidates. One is a conventional politician who has a long record of public service full of pros and cons. The other is a demagogic bigot with a puddle-deep understanding of national and international issues, who openly courts white nationalism, is hostile to women, Mexicans and Muslims, and is callously using black people as pawns in a Donnie-come-lately kinder-gentler campaign.

Second, a vote isn’t just about the past — although comparing these two candidates on their pasts still leaves one as the clear choice — but about the present and the future.

There is a simple truth here: Either Clinton or Trump will be the next president of the United States. Not Jill Stein. Not Gary Johnson. Clinton or Trump.

There is another truth: That person will appoint someone to fill the current vacancy on the Supreme Court (assuming that the Senate doesn’t find religion and move on Merrick Garland before the new president takes office) and that person will also appoint federal judges to fill the 88 district court and court of appeals vacancies that now exist (there are 51 nominees pending for these seats).

These judgeships alone could cast a long shadow — not just for one or two terms of a presidency, but for decades, until those judges retire or die.

This election isn’t just about you or me, or Clinton or Trump. This election is quite literally about the future, all of our and our children’s and their children’s futures.

You can’t say you’re upset about police interaction with minority communities and not understand that the courts are where police tactics are challenged and where precedent is set.

You can’t care about this issue and risk having those judicial seats filled by a man who allowed Sheriff David Clarke to speak at his nomination convention. Sheriff Clarke has called Black Lives Matter “a separatist movement” comprising “slimy people” with a “hateful ideology” that should be added “to the list of hate groups in America.”

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who last week was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, a group that in its questionnaire to candidates claims: “Fringe organizations have been given a platform by the media to convey the message that police officers are a ‘militarized’ enemy and it is time to attack that enemy.” The questionnaire goes further: “There is a very real and very deliberate campaign to terrorize our nation’s law enforcement officers, and no one has come to our defense.” This, of course, is cop fantasy, but this group is the nation’s largest police union, representing some 330,000 officers.

You can’t care about this issue and risk the ascendance of a man who said of black people this week that they are “absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before” and has said before that his key to restoring safety in black communities is in part “more law enforcement.”

You can’t have taken part in a march for Eric Garner, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and risk the ascendance of a man who has as one of his chief advisers Rudy Giuliani, the grandfather of the very “broken windows” policing strategy that sent officers after low-level offenders like Garner.

You can’t have supported the marching in Ferguson, and applaud the Justice Department’s findings that the city was systematically oppressing its black citizens, and allow Trump to pick the next attorney general.

You can’t have been enraged by the video of Freddie Gray and risk the ascendance of a man who tweeted about the unrest that followed: “Our great African-American President hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are so happily and openly destroying Baltimore!”

You can’t be irate about the environmental injustice in Flint and risk the ascendance of a man who didn’t set foot in that city this cycle until the final stretch of the campaign, when he was engaged in his fake black outreach. And even after he did, he attacked the pastor who interrupted him and lied about details of the visit. You can’t allow that man to pick the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

You can’t have cried about Tamir Rice’s case and allow the ascendance of a candidate who would have his convention in the city where Tamir was killed and not even once reach out to Tamir’s mother or invite her to the convention. You can’t allow the ascendance of a candidate with the audacity to return to Cleveland to tape a town hall with his television booster Sean Hannity about issues facing the African-American community — taped in front of a largely white audience judging by the pictures — and still not reach out to Tamir’s mother to participate. Tamir’s blood cries out for better.

You can’t detest racial-dragnet-policy stop-and-frisk policing as not only morally abhorrent but thoroughly unconstitutional and risk the ascendance of a man who on Wednesday reportedly suggested that he would consider using stop-and-frisk more across the nation.

You can’t pretend to be “enlightened” or “woke” or “principled” and sit idly by and allow real and sustained damage to be done to the very causes you hold dear.

You can’t in good conscience compare Trump to the candidate who has embraced the “Mothers of the Movement,” has an expansive racial justice agenda outlined on her website, has been engaged with Flint for months and has won the praise of that city’s mayor, and will surely appoint more liberal judges.

As Bernie Sanders himself said last week: “This is not the time for a protest vote.”

Protest voting or not voting at all isn’t principled. It’s dumb, and childish, and self-immolating. I know you’re young, but grow up!

That ought to be required reading for every precious little millenial snowflake member of the Purity Police.  Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The world is a mess, with billions of people locked in inescapable cycles of war, famine and poverty, with more children than ever perishing from hunger, disease and violence.

That’s about the only thing Americans agree on; we’re polarized about all else. But several polls have found that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same over the last 20 years.

Fortunately, the one point Americans agree on is dead wrong.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.90 per person per day) has tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s six million lives a year saved by vaccines, breast-feeding promotion, pneumonia medicine and diarrhea treatments!

Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

O.K., you’re thinking that I’ve finally cracked up after spending too much time in desperate places. So a few data points:

■ As recently as 1981, when I was finishing college, 44 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. Now the share is believed to be less than 10 percent and falling. “This is the best story in the world today,” says Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.

■ For the entire history of the human species until the 1960s, a majority of adults were illiterate. Now 85 percent of adults worldwide are literate and the share is rising.

■ Although inequality has risen in America, the global trend is more encouraging: Internationally, inequality is on the decline because of gains by the poor in places like China and India.

The U.N. aims to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, and experts believe it is possible to get quite close. In short, on our watch, we have a decent chance of virtually wiping out ills that have plagued humanity for thousands of generations, from illiteracy to the most devastating kind of hand-to-mouth poverty.

Yet the public thinks the opposite, that poverty is getting worse. A poll to be released Thursday by Motivaction, a Dutch firm, finds that only 1 percent of Americans surveyed realized that global extreme poverty had fallen by half over 20 years.

I wonder if those of us in journalism and the humanitarian worlds don’t err by focusing so much on human misery that we leave the public with the misperception that everything is always getting worse.

I’ve covered massacres in South Sudan, concentration camps in Myanmar and widespread stunting in India, but it’s also important to acknowledge the backdrop of global progress. Otherwise, the public may perceive poverty as hopeless and see no point in carrying on the fight — at just the point when we’re making the most rapid gains ever recorded.

When I first made the acquaintance of the developing world, as a backpacking law student in the 1980s, sometimes riding on tops of trains or buses and writing articles to pay my expenses, the most gut-wrenching aspect of poverty I encountered was ubiquitous blind beggars, robbed of dignity and any chance to be productive.

This is much less common today, partly because humanitarian aid — despite real shortcomings — has made a profound difference in health. The heroic work of former President Jimmy Carter and pharmaceutical donations from Merck have made river blindness less common. Vitamin A capsules costing 2 cents a dose have reduced blindness as well. Antibiotics have helped curb blinding trachoma. And a simple $25 surgery developed by a Nepali ophthalmologist, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, lets people suffering from cataracts see again.

The scenes of blind beggars on every street corner will soon be gone forever.

Cynics scoff that if more children’s lives are saved, they will just grow up to have more babies and cause new famines and cycles of poverty. Not so! In fact, when parents are assured that their children will survive, they choose to have fewer of them. As girls are educated and contraception becomes available, birthrates tumble — just as they did in the West. Indian women now average just 2.4 births, Indonesian women 2.5, and Mexican women just 2.2.

So in a moment we can return to urgent needs worldwide, from war to climate change to refugees. But first, let’s pause for a nanosecond of silence to acknowledge the greatest gains in human well-being in the history of our species — not to inspire complacency, but rather to spur our efforts to accelerate what may be the most important trend in the world today.

And last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

The hottest political ad of the season — I am not counting anything involving Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — is probably for the Missouri Senate, in which the Democratic candidate talks about … gun background checks.

Well, obviously we all miss the one about hog neutering.

But this is pretty darned good. Jason Kander, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, assembles an assault rifle blindfolded while saying that he believes “in background checks so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.”

His opponent, Senator Roy Blunt, had been lambasting Kander for his failure to toe the straight National Rifle Association line. “I approve this message,” Kander concludes, swiftly finishing his eyes-closed assemblage, “because I’d like to see Senator Blunt do this.”

Not going to happen. But Blunt did release a collection of videos ofother blindfolded rifle assemblers. (“Some do it … really, really fast.”) And then the announcer reminds Missouri that Kander got an “F” from the National Rifle Association.

Excellent example of how hard it is to please the N.R.A. Really, you could serve these people breakfast in bed for a year, but then one day the orange juice is watery and it’s Splitsville.

Kander, who’s the current Missouri secretary of state, mentions frequently that he volunteered for the service after graduating from law school.

There has been a bit of a controversy about whether Blunt avoided Vietnam because he drew a high number in the draft or via student deferments. The answer is both, but I believe I speak for many Americans when I say we’re over that particular debate. Truly. The man is 66. Let’s go back to the part about how his wife and three adult children are all lobbyists.

The race is close and Kander cites polls that show most voters are fine with background checks. (The people he talks to, he added, are more worried about college debt, which Blunt once blamed on the students’ “personal living standard.”)

Still, it would be amazing if Missouri elected a candidate who’s middle-of-the-road on guns, right after the State Legislature just set a record in the extremely competitive category of Loopiest N.R.A. Cave-In.

The massive Republican majority voted, for one thing, to eliminate all training requirements for concealed weapons permits. “I am in a real estate course,” said Jason Holsman, a state senator from Kansas City, in a phone interview during a class break. “Missouri law requires 72 hours of training before you can sell a house. Now, zero hours before you can carry a concealed gun.”

Actually, the N.R.A. went much, much further, and wiped out the permits entirely. Now, Missourians can just buy a gun and stick it in their pocket.

The new law also includes one of those “stand your ground” provisions. Now people walking around after dark could reasonably presume that anybody they ran into might have a concealed weapon, and would have a right to fire first if they felt physically threatened.

Thanks to Kander, the voters will at least get to hear a lively statewide debate about whether this is a good plan. Nationally, too, this is the first time in ages that the candidates are having a spirited debate on gun issues. Back in the day, this wasn’t a matter of partisan divide —Richard Nixon said “guns are an abomination” and George H.W. Bush resigned from the N.R.A. when it failed to show support for federal investigators after the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing.

Then came 2000. I still remember a moment, during the big presidential debate, when the moderator asked Al Gore how he differed from George W. Bush on guns. I was totally — totally! — expecting Gore to retort: “Well, there’s only one of us who thinks it’s a good idea to carry concealed weapons into church.” Instead, he stiffened and said something defensive about not being in favor of registration. Gore lost, and the Democrats blamed gun control.

Now Hillary Clinton is running on centrist reforms like background checks, while Donald Trump wants to eliminate gun-free zones at, say, nursery schools and give people from Missouri the right to carry their permit-free concealed weapons in Midtown Manhattan.

In gratitude, the N.R.A. has been running an ad that shows an intruder smashing into a house where a woman is sleeping, alone. When the terrified resident opens the safe where she keeps her gun, said weapon vanishes, and it’s pretty much curtains. This could happen to you, if you let Hillary Clinton take away our “right to self-defense.”

Of course, a woman is less likely to be shot by an intruder than by a member of her family. And really, Missouri, do you want to have everybody in St. Louis carrying a concealed weapon? Let’s talk.

Krugman’s blog 9/6/16

September 7, 2016

There were 2 posts yesterday.  The first was “Read Me On Twitter!”:

It has come to my attention that some long-time blog followers aren’t aware that I am now Tweeting directly, and that this has to some extent displaced my blogging — especially when it comes to political commentary. If you don’t know about this, you should check it out. You don’t need to be on Twitter yourself, although if you are I’m @paulkrugman. As long as you are online, just go here— twitter dot com slash paulkrugman.

Why am I tweeting instead of blogging, at least some of the time? In some ways it’s a step backwards: 140 characters instead of little essays that can run to hundreds or even thousands of words. Some innovations like Tweetstorms — a series of linked tweets telling a longer story — are arguably just awkward ways to imperfectly replicate blog posts.

But the fact is that a lot more people read a tweetstorm than read a blog post. Also, the logistics turn out to be easier for technical reasons — I can Tweet very quickly in response to an event, where blogging, thanks in part to (much needed) Times security features, is a more laborious process. And I haven’t, at least so far, done a drunk Tweet …

Anyway, I may revisit the balance over time. Meanwhile, my snark is mainly over there.

Yesterday’s second post was “Thinking About Brexit, Fast and Slow:”

“The City’s smartest people are being forced to admit they were wrong about a ‘Brecession’” So says Business Insider, now that good UK PMI surveys have caused Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley to back off their forecasts of a Brexit-induced recession.

But I wasn’t wrong. Yay me!

OK, seriously, at least for the moment it seems as if my skepticism about dire short-run forecasts, despite my agreement about the long run costs has been vindicated:

Economists have very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very dubious claims about the short run. And the fact that so many respectable people are making these dubious claims makes them seem well-reasoned when they aren’t.

I could, of course, still turn out to be wrong. But let me say that what I’m really enjoying here — aside from the chance to claim that I was right — is, for once, having an argument with smart people who are trying to get it right. So much of my time these days is spent combatting sheer derp, that it’s almost like a vacation to debate propositions that aren’t self-evidently stupid.

Krugman’s blog, 8/15/16

August 16, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump,” and the second was “Abenomics and the Single Arrow.”  Here’s “Lies, Lying Liars, and Donald Trump:”

So, there’s a new conservative take on who’s to blame for Donald Trump — and the answer, it turns out, is liberal commentators, and me in particular. Yep, by denouncing the dishonesty of people like Mitt Romney, I was crying wolf, so that voters paid no attention to warnings about Trump.

Actually, even if you leave aside the substance, this is bizarre. Do you really think that the fraction of the Republican primary electorate that selected Trump cares what New York Times columnists, me in particular, have to say — that they would have been warned off if only I had been nicer to establishment Republicans? That doesn’t even rise to the level of a joke.

But anyway, let’s talk about what I said about Romney. (By the way, I don’t think I referred to him as a “charlatan” — I used that word to refer to supply-side economists, because that’s what Greg Mankiw, who was advising his campaign, called them.) Here’s a key passage:

Every one of the Romney campaign’s major themes, from the attacks on President Obama for going around the world apologizing for America (he didn’t), to the insistence that Romneycare and Obamacare are very different (they’re virtually identical), to the claim that Mr. Obama has lost millions of jobs (which is only true if you count the first few months of his administration, before any of his policies had taken effect), is either an outright falsehood or deeply deceptive. Why the nonstop mendacity?

Is there anything wrong with that passage? The “apology tour” thing was a constant refrain, even though Politifact declared it pants on fire. So were the Romneycare not Obamacare and job loss things, which were equally false. So what is the assertion here? That I should not have called Romney out on lies, because that would undermine my authority when a much bigger liar came along?

How about a different hypothesis: the foundations for Trumpism were laid in part by conservatives who made dishonesty about policy a routine part of Republican politics, and also both-sides-do-it journalists who enabled that culture of lying. This left the Republican establishment helpless in the fact of someone who lied as much in a day as they did in a week, because they couldn’t credibly make the case that policy dishonesty was disqualifying.

Actually, I don’t fully believe in this hypothesis either; mainly, Trumpism is the GOP’s id triumphing over its weak superego, which was probably destined to happen regardless. But it’s a lot more plausible than blaming little old me.

And now here’s “Abenomics and the Single Arrow:”

Some disappointing numbers on Japanese GDP, and the usual suspects are out there denouncing Abenomics and calling for structural reform, the universal elixir. And the evidence that structural reform is the answer is …

What I believe to be the real lesson of Abenomics so far is the limits of monetary policy. There were supposed to be three arrows — monetary policy, fiscal expansion, and, yes, structural reform. But really only the monetary arrow was fired. Here’s the IMF estimate of the structural primary balance, a rough measure of the demand effect of fiscal policy (with bigger deficits meaning more stimulus):

Overall, fiscal policy in Japan has actually gotten tighter, not looser, since Abenomics began, mainly thanks to the consumption tax hike; other measures didn’t offset this much.

So all the weight rested on unconventional monetary policy, which did succeed in depressing the yen and pushing up stocks, but hasn’t been enough to generate a convincing boom or rise in inflation.

And that appears to not be enough, just as the ECB’s actions haven’t been enough without fiscal support. Never mind the third arrow: what we need is the second.

Krugman’s blog, 8/10/16

August 11, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Hair Meets Heirs:”

It’s sort of being put into the background by little stuff like death threats against Hillary Clinton, but I’m still kind of fascinated by how “populist” Donald Trump came out for elimination of the estate tax, which hits only a tiny number of yuuge estates. Of course, he probably doesn’t know that. Still, it was clearly a sop to the GOP establishment, which considers tax-free inheritance the “linchpin of the conservative movement.”

That tells you a lot about said movement. The thing about the estate tax is that it’s really, really hard to make the case that it’s all about incentives and trickle-down benefits. And conservatives basically don’t even try. Instead, they’ve made estate tax repeal an issue of “fairness” — people, they say, shouldn’t have to pay tax all over again when they die, and think of all the family farms and businesses broken put to pay the tax.

Now, this argument is in fact deeply misleading and almost always dishonest. For one thing, lots of people get taxed twice — once when you earn income, again when you pay sales tax, etc.. And much of the wealth passed on to heirs represents income — unrealized capital gains — that has never been taxed before. Oh, and the very wealthy, the people who now pay the bulk of the estate tax, often pay lower overall tax rates than people further down the scale; see Romney, Mitt.

There’s more: we’re supposed to feel bad about those broken-up family farms — but back in 2001, when the American Farm Bureau Foundation was asked to provide examples, it couldn’t find even one. Small business tales are also very hard if not impossible to find, and that was back when the minimum threshold was a lot lower than it is now. Basically, we’re supposed to feel sorry for unicorns.

But in that case, how does this story still exert power? Money in politics, for sure; decades of lavishly funded propaganda, too. But what Graetz and Shapiro, linked above, emphasize is that some of the blame rests on centrists and mild liberals, too: they never made the moral case for estate taxation. Even now, it’s hard to think of many politicians willing to be anywhere near as forthright as Teddy Roosevelt was about the dangers to democracy posed by vast inherited wealth.

The question is whether the Trump phenomenon will reopen that door. I understand and sympathize with the Clinton campaign’s decision to emphasize how uniquely bad Trump is; their task is, first and foremost, to keep his short fingers off the button. But a big win would, perhaps, create room for a more robust enunciation of progressive values, on this and many other subjects.

Brooks and Krugman

July 15, 2016

Sorry for the lateness.  Been a bit under the weather.  Today Bobo says “We Take Care of Our Own,” and that the phrase has two meanings, and that difference is at the center of election 2016.  Prof. Krugman, in “Bull Market Blues,” says in some ways, the stock market’s gains reflect economic weaknesses, not strengths.  Here’s Bobo, to be followed by a response from “gemli” in Boston:

A few years ago, Bruce Springsteen came out with a song called “We Take Care of Our Own.” The chorus’s theme seemed upbeat and proud: We take care of the people closest to us. But like in a lot of Springsteen songs (including “Born in the U.S.A.”), the lyrics in the verses sit in tension with the lyrics in the chorus.

In the verses, it’s clear that taking care of our own also means not taking care of people who are not our own, like the victims of Katrina. Suddenly the phrase “We Take Care of Our Own” has an exclusivist, menacing and even racist tinge.

That phrase and the two different meanings it can have sit at the center of election 2016.

Donald Trump’s supporters stand for the first meaning. America’s first loyalty is to its own workers, its own culture, its own citizens.

This worldview is not just selfishness. For most of human history most people have prized coherent communities above all. They’ve built moral systems on loyalty and support for their own kin and fellow citizens. These bonds are not based on some abstract social contract. They are intimate bonds, born out of shared kinship, history, geography and common understandings of right and wrong.

People committed to coherent communities will fight to defend the norms that hold communities together. They accept immigrants who assimilate to existing culture, but they’ll be suspicious of those who they feel bring in incompatible customs and tear at the social fabric.

For eons, this was more or less the traditional moral system for most of the human race. But as the N.Y.U. social psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out in an outstanding essay in The American Interest, over the past several decades a different mind-set has emerged.

People with this mind-set value the emancipated individual above the cohesive community. They value, or at least try to value, self-expression, social freedom and diversity. Their morality is not based on loyalty to people close to them; it’s based on a universal equality for all humans everywhere.

People with this mind-set disdain the political or religious walls that divide people. In his essay, Haidt cites John Lennon’s song “Imagine” as an expression of this worldview:

Imagine there’s no countries; it isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

People with this mind-set bridle at the exclusivist implications of the line “We Take Care of Our Own.” It’s fine to value Americans, but we should also take in the immigrant and be multilateral in our foreign relations.

Haidt argues that the division between these two camps is a division between the nationalists and the globalists. It’s also between the moral particularists and the moral universalists, between those who believe that blood and historic ties take precedence and those who, like the philosopher Peter Singer, argue that you have the same moral obligation to a boy starving to death in South Sudan as to a boy drowning in the lake in front of you.

For decades the globalist/universalist mind-set — pro-immigration, pro-globalization — has been on the march. Now, with Trump, the particularists are striking back. Immigration is the subject that fuels their ire.

As Haidt writes, “By the summer of 2015 [when the Syrian refugee crisis hit] the nationalist side was already at the boiling point, shouting ‘enough is enough, close the tap,’ when the globalists proclaimed, ‘let us open the floodgates, it’s the compassionate thing to do, and if you oppose us you are a racist.’ Might that not provoke even fairly reasonable people to rage?”

The fact is that both mind-sets have their virtues. The particularists emphasize the intimate love and loyalty that is the stuff of real community. The universalists are moved by injustices anywhere, and morally repulsed by inaction and indifference in the face of that suffering.

The tragedy of this election is that America already solved this problem. Unlike France and China, we were founded as a universalist nation. You can be fiercely patriotic and relatively open because America was founded to take in people from around the globe and unite them around something new.

Unfortunately, the forces of multiculturalism destroyed that commitment to cultural union. That has led to Trump, who has upended universalistic American nationalism and replaced it with European blood and soil nationalism in a stars and stripes disguise.

The way out of this debate is not to go nationalist or globalist. It’s to return to American nationalism — espoused by people like Walt Whitman — which combines an inclusive definition of who is Our Own with a fervent commitment to assimilate and Take Care of them.

Now here’s what “gemli” has to say to Bobo:

“Since when do we take care of our own? The history of America has been one of embracing the idea of equality while carefully building walls to isolate and punish the undesirables. It’s ironic that while we were proclaiming that all men are created equal we were simultaneously wiping out the Native Americans.

Women aren’t really our own. They were grudgingly allowed to vote in 1920, and a few weeks ago it was decided that states couldn’t close clinics just to deny them the right to a legal abortion that they had been granted in 1973. But I get the feeling it’s not over yet.

People from Africa were made reluctant Americans, and since then we’ve been reluctant to call them our own. Even after a smart, poised and decent African-American man became president, they have to remind us that they don’t like being economically abandoned, imprisoned and shot at traffic stops.

God help the gays. They are most certainly not our own. In fact, they’re nobody’s. Same-sex unions are now permissible, so they can be reviled as couples instead of individually. In America, that counts as progress.

Imagine no religion. Good luck with that. For all the walls we build, the one between church and state is the flimsiest. For the entire 6,000 years since God created the earth, religion has been nothing but trouble. Atheists are not our own.

We tend to “take care” of our fellow Americans the way that mob bosses take care of troublesome rivals. With extreme prejudice.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like most economists, I don’t usually have much to say about stocks. Stocks are even more susceptible than other markets to popular delusions and the madness of crowds, and stock prices generally have a lot less to do with the state of the economy or its future prospects than many people believe. As the economist Paul Samuelson put it, “Wall Street indexes predicted nine out of the last five recessions.”

Still, we shouldn’t completely ignore stock prices. The fact that the major averages have lately been hitting new highs — the Dow has risen 177 percent from its low point in March 2009 — is newsworthy and noteworthy. What are those Wall Street indexes telling us?

The answer, I’d suggest, isn’t entirely positive. In fact, in some ways the stock market’s gains reflect economic weaknesses, not strengths. And understanding how that works may help us make sense of the troubling state our economy is in.

O.K., let’s start with the myth Samuelson was debunking, the claim that stock prices are the measure of the economy as a whole. That myth used to be popular on the political right, with prominent conservative economists publishing articles with titles like “Obama’s Radicalism IsKilling the Dow.”

Strange to say, however, we began hearing that line a lot less once stock prices turned around and began their huge surge — which started just six weeks after President Obama was inaugurated. (But polling suggests that a majority of self-identified Republicans still haven’t noticed that surge, and believe that stocks have gone down in the Obama era.)

The truth, in any case, is that there are three big points of slippage between stock prices and the success of the economy in general. First, stock prices reflect profits, not overall incomes. Second, they also reflect the availability of other investment opportunities — or the lack thereof. Finally, the relationship between stock prices and real investment that expands the economy’s capacity has gotten very tenuous.

On the first point: We measure the economy’s success by the extent to which it generates rising incomes for the population. But stocks don’t reflect incomes in general; they only reflect the part of income that shows up as profits.

This wouldn’t matter if the share of profits in overall income were stable; but it isn’t. The share of profits in national income fluctuates, but it has been a lot higher in recent years than it was during the great stock surge of the late 1990s — that is, we’ve had a profits boom without a comparably large economic boom, making the relationship between profits and prosperity weak at best. We are not, in fact, partying like it’s 1999.

On the second point: When investors buy stocks, they’re buying a share of future profits. What that’s worth to them depends on what other options they have for converting money today into income tomorrow. And these days those options are pretty poor, with interest rates on long-term government bonds not only very low by historical standards but zero or negative once you adjust for inflation. So investors are willing to pay a lot for future income, hence high stock prices for any given level of profits.

But why are long-term interest rates so low? As I argued in my last column, the answer is basically weakness in investment spending, despite low short-term interest rates, which suggests that those rates will have to stay low for a long time.

This may seem, however, to present a paradox. If the private sector doesn’t see itself as having a lot of good investment opportunities, how can profits be so high? The answer, I’d suggest, is that these days profits often seem to bear little relationship to investment in new capacity. Instead, profits come from some kind of market power — brand position, the advantages of an established network, or good old-fashioned monopoly. And companies making profits from such power can simultaneously have high stock prices and little reason to spend.

Consider the fact that the three most valuable companies in America are Apple, Google and Microsoft. None of the three spends large sums on bricks and mortar. In fact, all three are sitting on huge reserves of cash. When interest rates go down, they don’t have much incentive to spend more on expanding their businesses; they just keep raking in earnings, and the public becomes willing to pay more for a piece of those earnings.

In other words, while record stock prices do put the lie to claims that the Obama administration has been anti-business, they’re not evidence of a healthy economy. If anything, they’re a sign of an economy with too few opportunities for productive investment and too much monopoly power.

So when you read headlines about stock prices, remember: What’s good for the Dow isn’t necessarily good for America, or vice versa.