Krugman’s blog, 3/10/17

March 11, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Smart Republicans?”:

I claim no special expertise in the legislative process. But reading a couple of pieces about what looks like a health care debacle from the good folks at Vox, I have some thoughts about what’s going on — namely, don’t presume that Ryan and company have any idea what they’re doing.

Start with Ezra Klein, who speculates that Ryan has advanced this ludicrous plan in the hope and expectation that it won’t pass. His reasoning is that Ryan is too skilled an operator to get caught off-guard as he seems to have:

Paul Ryan isn’t an amateur. He is, arguably, the most skilled policy entrepreneur of his generation. He is known for winning support from political actors and policy validators who normally reject his brand of conservatism. The backing he’s built for past proposals comes from painstaking work talking to allies, working on plans with them, preparing them for what he’ll release, hearing out their concerns, constructing processes where they feel heard, and so on. He’s good at this kind of thing. But he didn’t put in the work here. And there are consequences to that.

But has Ryan ever put together major legislation with any real chance of passage? Yes, he made a name for himself with big budget proposals that received adoring press coverage. But these were never remotely operational — they were filled not just with magic asterisks — tax loophole closing to be determined later, cost savings to be achieved via means to be determined later — but with elements, like converting Medicare into a voucher system, that would have drawn immense flack if they got anywhere close to actually happening.

In other words, he has never offered real plans for overhauling social insurance, just things that sound like plans but are basically just advertisements for some imaginary plan that might eventually be produced. Actually pulling together a coalition to get stuff done? Has he ever managed that?

What I’d say is that Ryan is not, in fact, a policy entrepreneur. He’s just a self-promoter, someone who has successfully sold a credulous media on a character he plays: Paul Ryan, Serious, Honest Conservative Policy Wonk. This is really his first test at real policymaking, which is a very different process. There’s nothing strange about his inability to pull off the real thing, as opposed to the act.

Meanwhile, Sarah Kliff, in the new VoxCare newsletter, is puzzled by the apparent disagreement among Republicans about what CBO is likely to say:

The only people who have advance access to the CBO numbers are the Republican legislators who actually worked on the bill. They’ve been working with the budget agency for months now to create a score.

But have they really been working with CBO for months? They may have been talking, but was it about anything resembling Obamacare 0.5? Everything else about the AHCA looks slapdash, like something thrown together in a few days by people who hadn’t thought at all about what a flat tax credit and a widened age band would mean for, say, people in Alaska with its expensive insurance, or low-middle-income Trump voters in their 60s. I have no inside information, but this sure looks as if they were still dithering about the whole principle of their Obamacare replacement until at most a few weeks ago, and didn’t work with CBO because they had nothing to work with.

In other words, maybe this looks like amateur hour because it is. Ryan isn’t a skilled politician inexplicably losing his touch, he’s a con artist who started to believe his own con; Republicans didn’t hammer out a workable plan because there is no such plan, and anyway they have no idea what that would involve.

Or to put it another way, this could just be more malevolence tempered by incompetence.

Collins, solo

March 11, 2017

In “Glad Tidings About the Three Faces of Donald Trump” Ms. Collins gives us one congressman’s 50 days of peculiar presidential encounters.  Here she is:

Good news: the president seems pretty enthusiastic about bringing down drug prices. This is important both because drug prices are way too high and because positive reports out of Washington are so very, very rare.

Every day we get up and stagger forward through the great, barren desert that is the Trump administration, yearning for happy tidings. (Did you know the A.S.P.C.A. says pet adoptions are up?) If we never find an oasis, maybe at least there’ll be a shiny little rock.

So. This week the president took time out from the Trumpcare battles to meet with two Democratic lawmakers and talk about lowering the cost of drugs. “I want to get some things done. … I keep telling myself, four years is a long time. I could be dead in four years,” said one of the conferees, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Cummings wants to give the government power to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of drugs for Medicare patients. I know, it seems insane that they don’t do that already. But there’s actually a rule against it. Inserted at the behest of Big Pharma during the Bush administration.

And Trump seemed interested. “I do believe he heard me. And he was very enthusiastic,” Cummings told me.

he one worry here is which version of the president it was that Cummings, and his colleague, Representative Peter Welch of Vermont, were meeting with.

There are three basic variations. Reasonable Chatting Trump is pleasant but useless. Unscripted Trump is pretty close to nuts. And then there’s the Somewhat Normal Republican Trump, who we enjoy calling SNORT.

To be fair, all three faces have called for lower drug prices. SNORT even mentioned it in the much-praised speech he read to Congress. That performance was so highly regarded we’d still be hearing about it, had not Unscripted Trump gotten out of bed at dawn last weekend and tweeted that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

My theory is that Cummings saw Reasonable Chatting Trump — the guy who’s always sitting down and having rewarding talks with progressives, who emerge from the discussions convinced they’ve scored a coup. Unfortunately, by the time they hit the street he’s forgotten every word.

Here’s a hint: After the meeting with the two Democrats, Trump’s office issued a statement saying the president did indeed want to work “in a bipartisan fashion to ensure prescription drug prices are more affordable for all Americans.” But the idea of actual price negotiations wasn’t mentioned. Instead, it talked about “reducing the regulatory burdens on drug manufacturers so as to enhance competition.”

Cummings, on the other hand, is pretty sure he was dealing with an open-minded SNORT. “I had a follow-up call from the president this morning,” he reported.

This is pretty good evidence — the Chatter never follows up. And Cummings, who’s the top-ranking Democrat on the House oversight committee, has already had wide, varied and frequently weird interactions with the new administration. Right after the election, he warned Vice President Mike Pence about naming Michael Flynn national security adviser, pointing out that during the campaign, Flynn had been not only a Trump surrogate, but also a lobbyist for Turkish government interests.

Yes! Three weeks after the Republican presidential convention, Flynn signed a $500,000-plus contract to work for a powerful associate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the thuggish ruler of Turkey. Then he was appointed national security adviser. Then he was fired for matters having nothing whatsoever to do with the Turkish connection. It wasn’t until this week that he got around to filing the appropriate disclosure forms for foreign agents.

How many variations do you think there are for Michael Flynn? Pence, who seemed to have forgotten the Cummings letter entirely, only admitted knowing Mike Without Turks. The administration apparently only recognized the Dotted Line version.

“There’s nothing nefarious about doing anything that’s legal as long as the proper paperwork is filed,” the legendary Sean Spicer told the media.

Holy moly.

But about Representative Cummings. He had a run-in with Unscripted Donald Trump a few weeks ago, when a reporter asked the president if he’d have any discussions with the Congressional Black Caucus on urban issues. The president responded by asking the reporter, who is African-American, whether she knew any black caucus members and wanted to set up a meeting. Then he claimed he had once had an appointment with Cummings, but that the lawmaker had backed down. Probably under pressure from Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.

Cummings heard it on a TV in the gym. “I was laying on the floor lifting some weights. I almost killed myself,” he recalled. “I was shocked.”

His version of events is, of course, different, but Cummings didn’t try to correct the record during his meeting with one of the other variations of the president. “I got bigger fish to fry,” he said.

We are so fucked…

Brooks and Krugman

March 10, 2017

In “The Republican Health Care Crackup” Bobo says it’s not just a bill, it’s the end of an era in American politics.  “Larry Hedrick” from DC will have something to say to Bobo.  Prof. Krugman has questions in “A Bill So Bad It’s Awesome:”  What were Republicans thinking? Were they even thinking?  Here’s Bobo:

The Republican health care bill could represent the moment when the old order of American politics completely cracks up, the end of a certain era in American politics.

That era began around 1974, when Ted Kennedy introduced a bill to supplement America’s employer-based insurance system with a government program. The Democratic dream of universal coverage continued through Hillary Clinton’s time as first lady and reached a partial culmination with the passage of Obamacare.

Combating government health care was a central Republican preoccupation through all that time, and the passage of Obamacare provoked the Tea Party reaction and final arrival of Goldwaterite populist conservatism.

By 2010, however, both the Obama administration and the Tea Party opposition were out of step with the times. They both still thought the big political issues in American life were universal health care and the size of government.

In fact, another set of problems had magnified and come to overshadow the old set. This new set included:

First, the crisis of opportunity. People with fewer skills were seeing their wages stagnate, the labor markets evaporate. Second, the crisis of solidarity. The social fabric, especially for those without a college degree, was disintegrating — marriage rates plummeting, opiate abuse rates rising. Third, the crisis of authority. Distrust in major institutions crossed some sort of threshold. People had so lost trust in government, the media, the leadership class in general, that they were willing to abandon truth and decorum and embrace authoritarian thuggery to blow it all up.

If President Obama had made these crises the center of his administration, instead of the A.C.A., Democrats wouldn’t have lost Congress and the White House. If the Tea Party had understood the first two of these crises, there would have been no opening for Donald Trump.

Trump came along and exploited these crises. But if his administration’s health care approach teaches us anything, it is that he has no positive agenda for addressing them. He can tap into working class anxiety negatively, by harnessing hostility toward immigrants, foreigners and the poor. But he can’t come up with a positive agenda to make working class life more secure.

So we have a group of Freedom Caucus Republicans who still think the major problems in the country today can be cured with tax and spending cuts. We have a Trump administration that has populist impulses but no actual populist safety net policies. And we’ve got a Republican leadership in Congress mired in Reagan-era thinking and trying to pay lip service to every obsolete prejudice in the various wings of the party.

You end up with this hodgepodge legislation that pleases nobody and takes the big crises afflicting our country and makes them all worse.

The Republican health plan would make America’s economic chasm worse. It would cut health subsidies that go to the poor while eliminating the net investment income tax, which benefits only the top 1 percent.

The Republican plan would further destabilize the social fabric for those at the bottom. Throwing perhaps 10 million people off the insurance rolls will increase fear, isolation, social tension, chronic illness, suicide and bankruptcy.

The Republican plan will fuel cynicism. It’s being pushed through in an elitist, anti-democratic, middle of the night rush. It seems purposely designed to fail. The penalties for those who don’t purchase insurance are so low they seem sure to guarantee Republican-caused death spirals in the weaker markets.

This thing probably won’t pass, but even if it passes it will probably lead to immense pain and disruption. That will discredit market-based social reform, cost the Republicans their congressional majorities and end what’s left of the Reagan-era party.

It will also point the way to a new era.

The central debate in the old era was big government versus small government, the market versus the state. But now you’ve got millions of people growing up in social and cultural chaos and not getting the skills they need to thrive in a technological society. This is not a problem you can solve with tax cuts.

And if you don’t solve this problem, voters around the world have demonstrated that they’re quite willing to destroy market mechanisms to get the security they crave. They will trash free trade, cut legal skilled immigration, attack modern finance and choose state-run corporatism over dynamic free market capitalism.

The core of the new era is this: If you want to preserve the market, you have to have a strong state that enables people to thrive in it. If you are pro-market, you have to be pro-state. You can come up with innovative ways to deliver state services, like affordable health care, but you can’t just leave people on their own. The social fabric, the safety net and the human capital sources just aren’t strong enough.

New social crises transform party philosophies. We’re in the middle of a transformation. But to get there we’ve got to live through this final health care debacle first.

Now here’s what “Larry Hedrick” from DC had to say about that:

“Mr. Brooks thinks it’s necessary to write that the Republican destruction of Obamacare will ‘fuel cynicism.’ As though it shouldn’t?

As for the Republican alternative (I use the word loosely) being ‘purposely designed to fail,’ I can’t see that it’s ‘purposely designed’ to either succeed or fail.

The only thing it’s designed to do is to shift more wealth from poorer people to richer people.

Beyond that, Republicans don’t care–which is why they’ve done such a sloppy job of creating this new self-contradictory jumble of words that they’re pleased to call a law.

I suppose it’s needful to review the basics just one more time.

David, the GOP to which you’ve devoted so much of your life has long been nothing more than an open conspiracy of the rich against the poor. That’s its sole purpose, beyond existing to feed its own bureaucracy.

Republican politicians are nothing more or less than hacks who are paid to keep the money flowing uphill while they clutter up the minds of the people with empty promises of perfecting the American commonwealth.

In Trump they’ve found their true champion, because he’s put them on the royal road to authoritarianism. It is in this darkness, which the pr*sident deepens with every lying tweet, that democracy dies.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It has long been obvious to anyone following health policy that Republicans would never devise a workable replacement for Obamacare. But the bill unveiled this week is worse than even the cynics expected; its awfulness is almost surreal. And the process by which it came to be tells you a lot about the state of the G.O.P.

Given the rhetoric Republicans have used over the past seven years to attack health reform, you might have expected them to do away with the whole structure of the Affordable Care Act — deregulate, de-subsidize and let the magic of the free market do its thing. This would have been devastating for the 20 million Americans who gained coverage thanks to the act, but at least it would have been ideologically consistent.

But Republican leaders weren’t willing to bite that bullet. What they came up with instead was a dog’s breakfast that conservatives are, with some justice, calling Obamacare 2.0. But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s a half-baked plan that accepts the logic and broad outline of the Affordable Care Act while catastrophically weakening key provisions. If enacted, the bill would almost surely lead to a death spiral of soaring premiums and collapsing coverage. Which makes you wonder, what’s the point?

Obamacare rests on three main pillars. Insurance companies are regulated, prevented from denying coverage or charging higher prices to Americans with pre-existing conditions. Families receive subsidies linked to both income and premiums, to help them buy insurance. And there is a penalty for those who don’t buy insurance, to induce people to sign up even if they’re currently healthy.

Trumpcare — the White House insists that we not call it that, which means that we must — preserves some version of all three elements, but in drastically, probably fatally weakened form.

Insurers are still barred from excluding the sick, but they’re allowed to charge older Americans — who need insurance the most — much higher premiums.

Subsidies are still there, in the form of tax credits, but they’re no longer linked to either income (as long as it’s below $75,000) or the cost of insurance.

And the tax on those who don’t sign up becomes a small surcharge — paid to insurance companies, not the public — on people who sign up after previously letting coverage lapse.

Affluent young people might end up saving some money as a result of these changes. But the effect on those who are older and less affluent would be devastating. AARP has done the math: a 55-year-old making $25,000 a year would end up paying $3,600 a year more for coverage; that rises to $8,400 for a 64-year-old making $15,000 a year. And that’s before the death spiral.

For the combination of price hikes and weakened penalties would lead many healthy Americans to forego insurance. This would worsen the risk pool, causing premiums to rise sharply — and remember, subsidies would no longer adjust to offset this rise. The result would be even more people dropping out. Republicans have been claiming that Obamacare is collapsing, which isn’t true. But Trumpcare, if implemented, would collapse in a Mar-a-Lago minute.

How could House Republicans under the leadership of Paul Ryan, who the media keeps assuring us is a smart, serious policy wonk, have produced such a monstrosity? Two reasons.

First, the G.O.P.’s policy-making and policy analysis capacity has been downgraded to the point of worthlessness. There are real conservative policy experts, but the party doesn’t want them, perhaps because their very competence makes them ideologically unreliable — a proposition illustrated by the rush to enact this bill before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office can estimate either its costs or its effects. Basically, facts and serious analysis are the modern right’s enemies; policy is left to hacks who can’t get even the simplest things right.

Second, Republicans seem to have been undone by their reverse-Robin-Hood urges. You can’t make something like Obamacare work without giving lower-income families enough support that insurance becomes affordable. But the modern G.O.P. always wants to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted; so the bill ends up throwing away the taxes on the rich that help pay for subsidies, and redirects the subsidies themselves away from those who need them to those who don’t.

Given the sick joke of a health plan, you might ask what happened to all those proclamations that Obamacare was a terrible, no good system that Republicans would immediately replace with something far better — not to mention Donald Trump’s promises of “insurance for everybody” and “great health care.”

But the answer, of course, is that they were all lying, all along — and they still are. On this, at least, Republican unity remains impressively intact.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 9, 2017

In “A Ticket to Hell” Mr. Blow says that as he’s done all his life, Donald Trump sold those around him a bill of goods.  Mr. Kristof, in “Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia,” says coincidences happen, but there are reasons to suspect collusion.  In “Getting Freedom From Health” Ms. Collins says Janis Joplin had President Trump’s number.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has spent his whole life overselling an overinflated vision of himself and his success.

He was the outer-borough boy whose father’s “boxlike office” was on Avenue Z in Brooklyn; he always dreamed of making it to Manhattan and breaking into the big league.

With a hustler’s spirit and some sleight of hand, he made it, but not in total.

He made the move, made the money and made his mark on New York’s skyline, but he never quite made it into the inner sanctum of New York high society.

I’m convinced that this is part of his obsession with former President Barack Obama. Obama was quickly granted the thing Trump never had: upper-class acceptance and adulation.

For Trump’s part, his sin was even worse than being new-money: He was tacky rich.

No amount of money or success could completely rid him of the odiousness of being coarse and crass.

He upset social conventions.

For him, things had to be gilded to be glamorous. All modesty — either real or contrived to guard against exposure — was absent from the man. He was a glutton for attention and adoration. He chased the spotlight and pimped celebrity for profit. He valued flaunting over philanthropy.

In New York City’s elite social circles, Trump was persona non grata.

As many others have pointed out, he became the idiot’s image of an intellectual, the coward’s image of a courageous man and the pauper’s image of a prosperous man.

But rather than being crimped by his ostracism, he wore it as a badge of honor.

He became the Everyman of rich men. He was the outsider, too authentic and even acerbic to be tamed by the convention of the elites. He was the populist billionaire, still engaged in the rough and tumble, at home on reality television just as he was in overpriced real estate.

He was impolitic in the way that many average Joes would be if they came into wealth and not from it.

He swept into politics at just the time that message had its greatest resonance, when there were enough people leery of institutions and weary of the establishment; the wealthy, social, cultural and intellectual elites were on the outs, and there was an opening for an outsider who knew how to work his way in.

The elites who had rejected Trump were now the rejected class. They were the 1 percent, the Wall Street barons, the manifestation of the evils of income inequality. This was the time for a populist, or at least someone who could pretend to be one.

It was in that environment that Trump swept into the presidential election, with the same bluster and bravado, aggression and subversion that had worked well for him in business.

He was not book smart or well mannered. He was all gut and elbow and verbal barbs. For too many, he was refreshingly anti-polish and anti-convention.

And, as is Trump’s wont and calling card, he oversold his voters a bill of goods that he would never be able to deliver. The Pied Piper of pipe dreams did in politics what he had done in business: He got people to buy into a success mythology in which he was a wizard. In this mythology, ethics, honor and truth are casualties.

Everything is going to be the greatest and the best and the most successful simply because he deems it so.

But now, the legend of Trump, the one most rigid in his own mind, is rubbing up against the harsh reality of presidential politics, where cooperation is needed and accountability is demanded. In this new world, Trumpism appears brittle, hollow and impotent.

No matter your politics, Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster, as his rush to action, lack of focus and absence of acuity have led him to calamitous missteps and conspiratorial misstatements.

And now his oversold promises are being exposed for the lies they were — draining the swamp in Washington, forcing Mexico to pay for his ridiculous southern border wall, the incredibly defective Obamacare repeal and replacement proposal.

In January, Trump oversold again in an interview with The Washington Post about what he would deliver. The Post reported Trump’s comments this way:

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” People covered under the law “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

But the plan just announced and endorsed by Trump doesn’t even come close to delivering on this promise. Not only would prices most likely rise for many Trump voters, but millions of Americans would be at risk of losing coverage under the plan.

Not only that, but as NBC reported last month:

“Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are likely to be hit the hardest if he makes good on his promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and embark on trade wars with China and Mexico.”

The report continued:

“An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 6.3 million of the 11.5 million Americans who used the A.C.A. marketplace to buy their insurance last year live in Republican congressional districts. Policy analysts say that a rollback of the A.C.A. would hurt older and rural Americans — two populations that favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.”

As he has done his whole life, Trump has sold those who follow him as some sort of money-drenched messiah a bill of goods, but this time the lie is likely to manifest in loss of life, as sick people lose coverage.

Donald Trump has sold his supporters — and by extension, this country — a ticket to hell.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

I enjoyed the show “House of Cards” but always felt that it went a bit too far, that its plot wasn’t plausible. After seven weeks of President Trump, I owe “House of Cards” an apology. Nothing seems impossible any more.

That includes the most towering suspicion of all: that Trump’s team colluded in some way with Russia to interfere with the U.S. election. This is the central issue that we must remain focused on.

There are a lot of dots here, and the challenge is how to connect them. Be careful: Democrats should avoid descending into the kind of conspiratorial mind-set that led some Republicans to assume Hillary Clinton was a criminal about to be indicted or to conjure sex slaves belonging to her in a Washington pizza restaurant. Coincidences happen, and I think there has been too much focus on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, not enough on Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager. Here are 10 crucial dots:

1. President Trump and his aides have repeatedly and falsely denied ties to Russia. USA Today counted at least 20 denials. In fact, we now know that there were contacts by at least a half-dozen people in the Trump circle with senior Russian officials.

2. There’s no obvious reason for all these contacts. When Vice President Mike Pence was asked on Jan. 15 if there had been contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin officials, he answered: “Of course not. Why would there be?” We don’t know either, Mr. Vice President.

3. There were unexplained communications between a Trump Organization computer server and Russia’s Alfa Bank, which has ties to President Vladimir Putin. These included 2,700 “look-up” messages to initiate communications, and some investigators found all this deeply suspicious. Others thought there might be an innocent explanation, such as spam. We still don’t know.

4. “Repeated” and “constant” contacts between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, as reported by The New York Times and CNN, are underscored by intercepts of communications involving Russian officials, and by the British and Dutch governments monitoring meetings in Europe between Russians and members of the Trump team.

5. A well-regarded Russia expert formerly with MI6, Christopher Steele, produced a now-famous dossier alleging that Russia made compromising videos of Trump in 2013, and that members of the Trump team colluded with the Kremlin to interfere with the U.S. election.

The dossier quoted a Russian as saying that a deal had been arranged “with the full knowledge and support of Trump” and that in exchange for Russian help, “the Trump team agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue.” James Clapper, the American former national intelligence director, says he saw no evidence of such collusion but favors an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

6. Trump has expressed a bewilderingly benign view of Russia and appointed officials also friendly to Moscow. He did not make an issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the campaign.

Krugman’s blog, 3/7/17

March 8, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “A Plan Set Up To Fail:”

So now we know what Republicans have to offer as an Obamacare replacement. Let me try to avoid value judgments for a few minutes, and describe what seems to have happened here.

The structure of the Affordable Care Act comes out of a straightforward analysis of the logic of coverage. If you want to make health insurance available and affordable for almost everyone, regardless of income or health status, and you want to do this through private insurers rather than simply have single-payer, you have to do three things.

1.Regulate insurers so they can’t refuse or charge high premiums to people with preexisting conditions
2.Impose some penalty on people who don’t buy insurance, to induce healthy people to sign up and provide a workable risk pool
3.Subsidize premiums so that lower-income households can afford insurance

So that’s Obamacare (and Romneycare before that): regulation, mandates, and subsidies. And the result has been a sharp decline in the number of uninsured, with costs coming in well below expectations. Roughly speaking, 20 million Americans gained coverage at a cost of around 0.6 percent of GDP.

Republicans have nonetheless denounced the law as a monstrosity, and promised to replace it with something totally different and far better. Which makes what they’ve actually come up … interesting.

For the GOP proposal basically accepts the logic of Obamacare. It retains insurer regulation to prevent exclusion of people with preexisting conditions. It imposes a penalty on those who don’t buy insurance while healthy. And it offers tax credits to help people buy insurance. Conservatives calling the plan Obamacare 2.0 definitely have a point.

But a better designation would be Obamacare 0.5, because it’s really about replacing relatively solid pillars with half-measures, severely and probably fatally weakening the whole structure.

First, the individual mandate – already too weak, so that too many healthy people opt out – is replaced by a penalty imposed if and only if the uninsured decide to enter the market later. This wouldn’t do much.

Second, the ACA subsidies, which are linked both to income and to the cost of insurance, are replaced by flat tax credits which would be worth much less to lower-income Americans, the very people most likely to need help buying insurance.

Taken together, these moves would almost surely lead to a death spiral. Healthy individuals, especially low-income households no longer receiving adequate aid, would opt out, worsening the risk pool. Premiums would soar – without the cushion created by the current, price-linked subsidy formula — leading more healthy people to exit. In much of the country, the individual markets would probably collapse.

The House leadership seems to realize all of this; that’s why it reportedly plans to rush the bill through committee before CBO even gets a chance to score it.

It’s an amazing spectacle. Obviously, Republicans backed themselves into a corner: after all those years denouncing Obamacare, they felt they had to do something, but in fact had no good ideas about what to offer as a replacement. So they went with really bad ideas instead.

Friedman and Bruni

March 8, 2017

In “Peanut Butter on the Trump Team’s Chins” The Moustache of Wisdom says the president’s apologists are embarrassing.  Mr. Bruni, in “Ben Carson’s Gray Matter,” says the good doctor’s precision with words isn’t exactly surgical.  Here’s TMOW:

For many years the famous Crystal Palace dinner theater in Aspen featured a cabaret song that every audience loved: “The Peanut Butter Affair.”

It told the story of a C.E.O. who had gone to work one day, without properly washing his face, and still had a lump of peanut butter on his chin. But none of his employees dared to tell him.

When he got home, though, his wife told him it was there and he was appalled. But he was even more appalled when he showed up for work over the next few days and eventually “every jerk from the chairman to the clerk had a lump of peanut butter on his chin.”

That spoof of underlings who witlessly mimic their bosses came to mind as I listened to Trump aides and allies justifying the president’s Saturday morning Twitter rant alleging — without any evidence — that President Barack Obama ordered Trump Tower phones be tapped during the 2016 campaign. It seemed like the whole Trump team was putting peanut butter on their chins. The only question was who had the biggest lump.

My vote goes to deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who told ABC’s “This Week” that President Trump “is going off of information that he’s seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential.” Unspecified information that he’s seen? U.F.O.s that he’s seen? How is that a standard for accusing his predecessor of a vile crime? Give that woman a four-year supply of Peter Pan.

But Sanders is just a flack. More troubling was watching an honorable soldier, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, dab on some Skippy and defend Trump’s claim on CNN, saying that “the president must have his reasons.”

Then why doesn’t the secretary of homeland security know them and why doesn’t the president share them? And, by the way, why are you on television with peanut butter on your chin, saying the President has reasons but not saying what they are? That’s how a morally bankrupt president soils everyone around him, even such a good man.

Trump ran for office promising to protect Americans from terrorists, immigrants and free trade agreements. But who will protect us from him? If our president is willing to casually throw under a bus our most elemental principles of presidential conduct — such as, you don’t accuse your predecessor of a high crime without evidence, just to divert attention away from your latest mess — we have a real problem.

We have so many big, hard things we need to do, but big hard things can only be done together. And that takes a leader who can bring us together to do things worthy of our energies and dedication — like proper health care reform, immigration reform, tax reform and infrastructure investment, or properly working with China and Russia where we can and drawing red lines where we must.

But it also requires trust in the integrity of that leader — that when things get tough, the leader won’t bail and shoot his aides and followers in the back. There is not a G.O.P. congressman or U.S. ally abroad who today is not asking: Can I trust this guy when the going gets tough, or will Trump lay a fact-free Twitter rant on me? Can I even trust sharing information with him?

Government moves “at the speed of trust,” observes Stephen M. R. Covey in his book “The Speed of Trust.” “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. … That one thing is trust.”

Despite a bizarre number of meetings with Russians, no proof has surfaced that Trump’s team colluded with Russia. What our top three intelligence services have declared, though, is that Russia did hack our election on Trump’s behalf. And as more of our lives move to cyberspace, understanding exactly how that was done, how it is probably being done in European elections right now and how to deter this new weapon from undermining the West, which is Russia’s goal, is a vital security issue. Without an electoral process we can trust, we’re sunk.

Sadly, most of the Republican Party today is morally AWOL, preferring to sweep the Russian hacking under the carpet rather than have a credible, independent investigation. That will lead people to question any collaboration Trump tries with Moscow.

Moreover, one day soon something will happen — in North Korea, the South China Sea, Ukraine, Iran — that will require him to make a judgment call. Trump will have to look the American people in the eye and say: “Trust me — I decided this based on the best information and advice of the intelligence community.” Or, “Trust me, we needed to work with Russia on this.”

And who will believe him? There is nothing more dangerous than a U.S. president who’s squandered his trust before he has to lead us through a crisis. But that’s what happens when he’s surrounded by people ready to slather peanut butter on their chins. It greases the decline of companies and countries. Or as the “Peanut Butter” song warns, “Strange to think what a guy can do just because everybody thinks he’s right.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I need Ben Carson in my head.

In my hippocampus, to be exact.

According to Carson, the human brain stores a perfect, indelible record of everything that it has seen, heard and done, and if he just drilled a hole through my skull and planted electrodes in the right region, bingo! I’d have access to the whole wondrous trove.

Drill, baby, drill. I need the access. As things stand now, I lose 45 minutes every week to the retrieval of forgotten passwords, and I recently got three-quarters of the way through a mystery before realizing that I knew whodunit, how he dun it and why he dun it. I’d already read the book.

Carson, our brand-new housing secretary, made an introductory, supposedly inspirational speech to federal employees this week, and while this kind of thing normally doesn’t wind up in the news, there’s nothing normal about Carson.

During the speech, he went on the tangent about the brain that I just described, and while, granted, he’s a renowned neurosurgeon and I’m an expert on little more than semicolons, I do question his assertion that with proper cerebral stimulation, someone can “recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago.” Maybe “Green Eggs and Ham.” But “The Mill on the Floss”?

Several of Carson’s fellow brain experts scoffed at this claim, though there was much louder scoffing at a subsequent stretch of his remarks that described America as a magnet for dreamers who arrived with “all of their earthly belongings in their two hands, not knowing what this country held for them.”

He continued:

“There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Sometimes Twitter goes berserk because it’s Twitter, other times because it should. “Their dream?” tweeted the movie director Ava DuVernay. “Not be kidnapped, tortured, raped.”

I was transfixed by “even longer, even harder, for less.” Not to be a stickler, but that doesn’t quite cover the distance between the sweatshop and the plantation.

On ABC’s talk show “The View,” Whoopi Goldberg recalled previous odd statements by Carson, noting that “the man who thought the pyramids were built for grain silos” and who “called the Big Bang theory ridiculous” was back with “a brand-new epic.”

“Were the slaves really thinking about the American dream?” she asked. “No, because they were thinking, ‘What the hell just happened?’ ” It’s a thought I myself have had after listening to Carson.

Carson is the only African-American in Trump’s cabinet, and he’s a great lesson — for the left as well as the right — that sensitivity is a function of sensibility, not merely of complexion or membership in a given identity group.

A black person can bumble into racially hurtful comments. A female executive can turn a blind eye to sexism in the ranks below her. A gay person can ignore or indulge homophobia. Diversity increases the odds that an organization sees the world more acutely, accurately and empathetically. But it’s not the end of the effort, and it’s no guarantee.

Carson rose from hardship to acclaim and riches. He performed awe-inspiring surgeries. He also suggested that prison causes homosexuality, which he separately likened to bestiality, and that Planned Parenthood aimed, through abortions, to limit the black population. He compared Obamacare to slavery.

He’s a riveting jumble and an important reminder that brilliance and competence along one axis hardly ensures brilliance or even coherence along another. Although we like to tag people as geniuses or fools — it’s a stark, easy taxonomy — they’re more complicated and compartmentalized than that.

Carson is enraptured by what people can be made to remember. I’m fascinated by what they choose to forget. Just before Trump nominated Carson to be housing secretary, one of Carson’s principal campaign advisers said that the good doctor knew far too little about the federal government to work in it. Trump decided to pay that no heed.

During the campaign, Trump said that incidents of aggression in Carson’s youth revealed a “pathological temper” and lumped him together with pedophiles, explaining: “You don’t cure a child molester. There’s no cure for it. Pathological — there’s no cure for that.”

But Carson shrugged that off when Trump came around with a glitzy job offer. It was all water under the hippocampus.

In his speech on Monday, Carson said, “There is nothing in this universe that even begins to compare with the human brain and what it is capable of.” He got that much right, and how.

Solo Bobo

March 7, 2017

Oh, gawd…  Since nothing much seems to be going on in the world Bobo has decided to write about… romance.  He asks the burning question “What Romantic Regime Are You In?” and informs us that if the Russian model of love is reckless, the American one involves too much calculation.  There will be a response from “soxared 04-07-13” from Crete, Illinois.  Here’s Bobo:

Polina Aronson spent her first 16 years in Russia. There, people tend to regard love as a sort of divine madness that descends from the heavens. Love is regarded, as the sociologist Julia Lerner put it, as “a destiny, a moral act and a value; it is irresistible, it requires sacrifice and implies suffering and pain.” Russians measure one another by how well they are able to bear the upheaval love brings, sometimes to an absurd degree.

But when she was in high school, Aronson moved to America, and stumbled across an issue of Seventeen magazine. She was astounded. In America she noticed that people tended ask: Does a partner fulfill your needs? Do you feel comfortable asserting your rights in the relationship? Does your partner check the right boxes?

Aronson concluded that she had moved from the Russian Regime of Fate to the American Regime of Choice.

“The most important requirement for choice is not the availability of multiple options,” she writes in Aeon magazine. “It is the existence of a savvy, sovereign chooser who is well aware of his needs and who acts on the basis of self-interest.”

The Regime of Choice encourages a certain worldly pragmatism. It nurtures emotionally cool, semi-isolated individuals. If the Russian model is too reckless, the American model involves too much calculation and gamesmanship. “The greatest problem with the Regime of Choice stems from its misconception of maturity as absolute self-sufficiency,” Aronson writes. “Attachment is infantilized. The desire for recognition is rendered as ‘neediness.’ Intimacy must never challenge ‘personal boundaries.’”

Indeed, a lot of our social fragmentation grows out of the detached, utilitarian individualism that this regime embodies.

The dating market becomes a true market, where people carefully appraise each other, looking for red flags. The emphasis is on the prudential choice, selecting the right person who satisfies your desires. But somehow as people pragmatically “select” each other, marriage as an institution has gone into crisis. Marriage rates have plummeted at every age level. Most children born to women under 30 are born outside of wedlock. The choice mind-set seems to be self-defeating.

Even those of us who have had humbling experiences in this realm can look at those who seem to have this lifelong thing figured out and see a different set of attitudes and presuppositions, which you might call a Regime of Covenants. A covenant is not a choice, but a life-altering promise and all the binding the promise entails.

The Regime of Covenants acknowledges the fact that we don’t really choose our most important attachments the way you choose a toaster. In the flux of life you meet some breathtakingly amazing people, usually in the swirl of complex circumstances. There is a sense of being blown around by currents more astounding than you can predict and control. Mostly you’re bumblingly trying to figure out the right response to the moments you’re in.

When you are drawn together and make a pledge with a person, the swirl doesn’t end; it’s just that you’ll ride it together. In the Regime of Covenants, making the right one-time selection is less important than the ongoing action to serve the relationship.

The Covenant people tend to have a “we” consciousness. The good of the relationship itself comes first and the needs of the partner are second and the individual needs are third. The covenant only works if each partner, as best as possible, puts the other’s needs above his or her own, with the understanding that the other will reciprocate.

The underlying truth of a Covenantal Regime is that you have to close off choice if you want to get to the promised land. The people one sees in long, successful marriages have walked the stations of vulnerability. They’ve overthrown the proud ego and learned to be utterly dependent on the other. They’ve faced the ways they are difficult to be with and tried to address them. They’ve gone through all the normal episodes of confession, apology, defensiveness, forgiveness and loving the other most when there’s nothing lovely about them.

You only do all this if you’ve set up a framework in which exit is not an easy option, in which you’re assured the other person’s love is not going away, and in which the only way to survive the crises is to go deeper into the relationship itself.

The final feature of a covenant is that the relationship is not just about itself; it serves some larger purpose. The obvious one in many cases is raising children. But the deeper one is transformation. People in such a covenant try to love the other in a way that brings out their loveliness. They hope that through this service they’ll become a slightly less selfish version of themselves.

The Covenant Regime is based on the idea that our current formula is a conspiracy to make people unhappy. Love is realistically a stronger force than self-interest. Detached calculation in such matters is self-strangulating. The deepest joy sneaks in the back door when you are surrendering to some sacred promise.

Ahh…  “Covenant Regime.”  I’m beginning to hear the distant drum beats of Mike Pence and dominionism.  Here’s what “soxared 04-07-13” had to say about this:

“Mr. Brooks, I understand that you are obligated, sometimes, to write about non-political subjects. But this comparing of love, “Russian style” against its so-called”American” opposite seems deeply inappropriate at this moment of American history.

With our country sliding down an irreversible course to what will surely be a series of unending, interlocking crises of government that will test the limits of what and who we are as a nation to its uttermost bitterness…all you can think of today is..romance?

With Donald Trump as the American president; with Paul Ryan’s new death panel rollout disguised as “healthcare” with “tax credits” for the growing numbers of older and working poor; with America putting up huge red stop signs at airports and borders; with No. 45 trashing No. 44 as a common eavesdropping felon, I’ve got to side with Tina Turner and ask ‘what’s love got to do with it?'”

Blow and Krugman

March 6, 2017

In “Pause This Presidency!” Mr. Blow says the question of Russian interference is existential.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Party Not Ready to Govern,” says the G.O.P. quagmire isn’t just about Trump.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this “president” until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election, in a way that was clearly meant to help him and damage his opponent, did not also include collusion with or coverup by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.

This may sound extreme, but if the gathering fog of suspicion should yield an actual connection, it would be one of the most egregious assaults on our democracy ever. It would not only be unprecedented, it would be a profound wound to faith in our sovereignty.

Viewed through the serious lens of those epic implications, no action to put this presidency on pause is extreme. Rather, it is exceedingly prudent.

Some things must be done and some positions filled simply to keep the government operational. Absolute abrogation of administrative authority is infeasible and ill advised. But a bare minimum standard must be applied until we know more about what the current raft of investigations yield. Indeed, it may be that the current investigative apparatuses are insufficient and a special commission or special counsel is in order.

In any event, we can’t keep cruising along as if the unanswered question isn’t existential.

Americans must demand at least a momentary respite from — my preference would be a permanent termination of — Trump’s aggressive agenda to dramatically alter the social, economic and political contours of this country.

America deserves to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our president is legitimate before he issues a single new disruptive executive order.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pursues a program to dismantle Obamacare.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before he pushes through a budget that obscenely expands military spending while making dramatic cuts in other areas.

America deserves to know that he is legitimate before the Senate moves forward with confirmation hearings for his Supreme Court nominee.

Republicans pitched a fit when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat made open by the death of Antonin Scalia, falsely arguing that a president should not be allowed to fill a vacancy during the last year of his term. Well, it is not at all clear to me that this will not be the last year of Donald Trump’s term, should these investigations reveal something untoward between his regime and Russia.

We have known for some time that the Russians interfered in our election in an effort to favor Trump. What we are learning in recent weeks are the number of Trump advisers and administrative officials who had contact with the Russian ambassador before the election, the frequency of those contacts, and the attempts, at least by some, to conceal those contacts.

But we now know, according to reporting by The Washington Post, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions also met at least twice with the ambassador during the campaign — once at the Republican National Convention — and then lied about those contacts under oath during his confirmation hearings.

Then this weekend in a series of tweets Trump made a scandalous and completely unsubstantiated allegation that President Obama had “my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower” in October of 2016. He said of his baseless charge, “This is McCarthyism!” and “This is Nixon/Watergate” and called Obama a “Bad (or sick) guy!”

This is absolutely outrageous. One of three things is true here: Obama, during the waning months of an eight-year term free of personal scandal, decided to maliciously and illegally tap the phones of the candidate all the polls at the time predicted would lose; a law enforcement agency was able to present evidence and convince a federal judge that someone or some group of people in Trump Tower were engaged in illegal activity; or this “president,” who has proven himself a pathological liar, is once again chasing conspiratorial windmills and seeking to detract and deflect from legitimate scandal. Any of these scenarios has the profoundest of consequences.

There is a helluva lot of smoke here for there to be no fire. Maybe all of these contacts with the Russians have some benign and believable explanation that escapes me at the moment. Maybe this is just the culmination of an extraordinary series of coincidences. Maybe.

I actually hope that’s true. The alternative explanation is nearly unfathomable in its ability to injure our democracy.

Whatever the case, we need answers before we simply pretend that there is some sort of political inertia pulling us forward and that the Trump agenda is an inevitable consequence of a suspect election.

No!

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last month found that a majority of Americans believe “Congress should investigate whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had contact with the Russian government in 2016.”

That’s important, but not enough. Until that investigation is completed, that same majority of Americans must put elected officials on notice that there will be a price to pay if they aid and abet Trump’s agenda before the truth is known.

We must all demand without equivocation: Pause this presidency!

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

According to Politico, a Trump confidante says that the man in the Oval Office — or more often at Mar-a-Lago — is “tired of everyone thinking his presidency is screwed up.” Pro tip: The best way to combat perceptions that you’re screwing up is, you know, to stop screwing up.

But he can’t, of course. And it’s not just a personal problem.

It goes without saying that Donald Trump is the least qualified individual, temperamentally or intellectually, ever installed in the White House. As he veers from wild accusations against President Obama to snide remarks about Arnold Schwarzenegger, he’s doing a very good imitation of someone experiencing a personal breakdown — even though he has yet to confront a crisis not of his own making. Thanks, Comey.

But the broader Republican quagmire — the party’s failure so far to make significant progress toward any of its policy promises — isn’t just about Mr. Trump’s inadequacies. The whole party, it turns out, has been faking it for years. Its leaders’ rhetoric was empty; they have no idea how to turn their slogans into actual legislation, because they’ve never bothered to understand how anything important works.

Take the two lead items in the congressional G.O.P.’s agenda: undoing the Affordable Care Act and reforming corporate taxes. In each case Republicans seem utterly shocked to find themselves facing reality.

The story of Obamacare repeal would be funny if the health care — and, in many cases, the lives — of millions of Americans weren’t at stake.

First we had seven — seven! — years during which Republicans kept promising to offer an alternative to Obamacare any day now, but never did. Then came the months after the election, with more promises of details just around the corner.

Now there’s apparently a plan hidden somewhere in the Capitol basement. Why the secrecy? Because the Republicans have belatedly discovered what some of us tried to tell them all along: The only way to maintain coverage for the 20 million people who gained insurance thanks to Obamacare is with a plan that, surprise, looks a lot like Obamacare.

Sure enough, the new plan reportedly does look like a sort of half-baked version of the Affordable Care Act. Politically, it seems to embody the worst of both worlds: It’s enough like Obamacare to infuriate hard-line conservatives, but it weakens key aspects of the law enough to deprive millions of Americans — many of them white working-class voters who backed Donald Trump — of essential health care.

The idea, apparently, is to deal with these problems by passing the plan before anyone gets a chance to really see or think about what’s in it. Good luck with that.

Then there’s corporate tax reform — an issue where the plan being advanced by Paul Ryan, the House speaker, is actually not too bad, at least in principle. Even some Democratic-leaning economists support a shift to a “destination-based cash flow tax,” which is best thought of as a sales tax plus a payroll subsidy. (Trust me.)

But Mr. Ryan has failed spectacularly to make his case either to colleagues or to powerful interest groups. Why? As best I can tell, it’s because he himself doesn’t understand the point of the reform.

The case for the cash flow tax is quite technical; among other things, it would remove the incentives the current tax system creates for corporations to load up on debt and to engage in certain kinds of tax avoidance. But that’s not the kind of thing Republicans talk about — if anything, they’re in favor of tax avoidance, hence the Trump proposal to slash funding for the I.R.S.

No, in G.O.P. world, tax ideas always have to be presented as ways to remove the shackles from oppressed job creators. So Mr. Ryan has framed his proposal, basically falsely, as a measure to make American industry more competitive, focusing on the “border tax adjustment” which is part of the sales-tax component of the reform.

This misrepresentation seems, however, to be backfiring: it sounds like a Trumpist tariff, and has both conservatives and retailers like WalMart up in arms.

At this point, then, major Republican initiatives are bogged down for reasons that have nothing to do with the personality flaws of the tweeter in chief, and everything to do with the broader, more fundamental fecklessness of his party.

Does this mean that nothing substantive will happen on the policy front? Not necessarily. Republicans may decide to ram through a health plan that causes mass suffering, and hope to blame it on Mr. Obama. They may give up on anything resembling a principled tax reform, and just throw a few trillion dollars at rich people instead.

But whatever the eventual outcome, what we’re witnessing is what happens when a party that gave up hard thinking in favor of empty sloganeering ends up in charge of actual policy. And it’s not a pretty sight.

Brooks and Krugman

March 3, 2017

In “Trumpism at Its Best, Straight Up” Bobo tells us that the president’s speech to Congress offered a view of his movement without his distracting clownish behavior.  Bobo, they probably shot him with a tranquilizer dart before he went on…  Prof. Krugman, in “Goodbye Spin, Hello Raw Dishonesty,” says the first casualty of Trump is truth.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump gave us Trumpism at its best on Tuesday night. And that was useful because it gave us a view of the political movement he represents, without the clownish behavior.

The first thing we learned was that Trumpism is an utter repudiation of modern conservatism. For the last 40 years, the Republican Party has been a coalition of three tendencies. On Tuesday, Trump rejected or ignored all of them.

There used to be Republican foreign policy hawks, people who believed that it was in America’s interest to serve as a global policeman, actively preserving a democratic world order. Trump explicitly repudiated this worldview, drawing instead a sharp distinction between what’s good for America and what’s good for the rest of the world.

There used to be social conservatives, who believed that the moral fabric of the country had been weakened by secularism and the breakdown of the family. On Tuesday, Trump acted as if this group didn’t exist. He didn’t mention a single social issue — abortion, religious liberty, marriage, anything.

Finally, there used to be fiscal hawks who worried about the national debt. Trump demolished these people, too, vowing a long list of spending programs and preservation of entitlement programs.

The Republicans who applauded Trump on Tuesday were applauding their own repudiation. They did it because partisanship is stronger than philosophy, but also because Reagan conservatism no longer applies to current reality.

The second thing we saw was how Trump’s ethnic nationalism emerges from the wreckage of the old G.O.P. Healthy American political philosophies balance individualism and collectivism, personal freedom and communal cohesion.

The old Reagan conservatism was economic individualism restrained by social and religious traditionalism. Conservatives could embrace the creative destruction of the free market because they believed that the communal order could be held together by traditional morals and the collective attachments of family, church and local organizations.

But in the 1990s conservatism devolved from a flexible balance to a crude anti-government philosophy, the Leave Us Alone coalition. Republicans talked as if Americans’ problem was they were burdened by too many restraints and the solution was to get government off their backs.

That may have been true of the businessmen who make up the G.O.P. donor class, but regular voters felt adrift and uprooted, untethered and exposed. Regular Republicans didn’t want more freedom and more risk in their lives. They wanted more protection and security. They wanted a father figure government that would protect them from the disruptions of technological change and globalization.

Donald Trump came along and offered them exactly that kind of strong government. He is not offering compassionate government, the way a Democrat might, but he is offering forceful government.

Trump would use big government to crack down on enemies foreign and domestic. He’d use government to create millions of jobs for infrastructure projects. He’d use government to force or bribe corporations to locate plants here — the guarded order of national corporatism over the wide-open riskiness of free-market capitalism.

The third thing we learned is that much of Trump’s policy agenda contradicts his core philosophy. Trumpism is all about protection, security and order. But many of Trump’s policies would introduce more risk into people’s lives, not less.

Trump’s health care plan — tax credits and health saving accounts — would increase choice, instability and risk for individual health care consumers. His school-choice ideas might make for more competitive education markets, but they would also increase risk and insecurity for individual consumers.

It’s likely that Republican voters will simply reject these proposals. They’ve got enough risk in their lives. It’s quite likely that large elements of the Trump agenda will go down in flames because they go against what the country wants and even against his own core brand.

Fourth, Trump’s speech on Tuesday offered those of us who want to replace him an occasion to ask the big question: How in the 21st century should government unleash initiative and dynamism while also preserving order? Trump’s answer: Nationalize intimidation but privatize compassion. Don’t look to government to offer a warm hand; look to it to confront your enemies with a hard fist.

Human development research offers a different formula: All of life is a series of daring adventures from a secure base. If government can create a framework in which people grow up amid healthy families, nurturing schools, thick communities and a secure safety net, then they will have the resources and audacity to thrive in a free global economy and a diversifying skills economy.

This is a response that is open to welfare state policies from the left and trade and macroeconomic policies from the free-market right — a single-payer health care system married to the flat tax.

The last thing Trump showed was this: We’re in a state of radical flux. Political parties can turn on a dime. At least that means it’s a time to think anew.

Buyer’s remorse much, Bobo?  Here’s what “zb” from BC had to say:

“In harking back to Reagan as time of legitimate conservativism you seem to have conveniently forgotten that he ran on a policy of pandering to southern hate; destroying government as the problem and not the solution; hyper phony patriotism; and nonsense economics.

What we have today is the natural result of Reagan and not a departure from it. Time to wake up to the fact that whatever you think you have been fighting for these decades is what helped get us to where we are.

That should have you feeling pretty sick right now.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The latest big buzz is about Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It turns out that he lied during his confirmation hearings, denying that he had met with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he met twice with the Russian ambassador, who is widely reported to also be a key spymaster.

Not incidentally, if this news hadn’t come to light, forcing Mr. Sessions to recuse himself, he would have supervised the investigation into Russian election meddling, possibly in collusion with the Trump campaign.

But let’s not focus too much on Mr. Sessions. After all, he is joined in the cabinet by Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, who lied to Congress about his use of a private email account; Tom Price, the secretary of health and human services, who lied about a sweetheart deal to purchase stock in a biotechnology company at a discount; and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who falsely told Congress that his financial firm didn’t engage in “robo-signing” of foreclosure documents, seizing homes without proper consideration.

And they would have served with Michael Flynn as national security adviser, but for the fact that Mr. Flynn was forced out after the press discovered that, like Mr. Sessions, he had lied about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Critics of our political culture used to complain, with justification, about politicians’ addiction to spin — their inveterate habit of downplaying awkward facts and presenting their actions in a much better light than they deserved. But all indications are that the age of spin is over. It has been replaced by an era of raw, shameless dishonesty.

In part, of course, the pervasiveness of lies reflects the character of the man at the top: No president, or for that matter major U.S. political figure of any kind, has ever lied as freely and frequently as Donald Trump. But this isn’t just a Trump story. His ability to get away with it, at least so far, requires the support of many enablers: almost all of his party’s elected officials, a large bloc of voters and, all too often, much of the news media.

It’s important not to indulge in an easy cynicism, to say that politicians have always lied and always will. What we’re getting from Mr. Trump is simply on a different plane from anything we’ve seen before.

For one thing, politicians used to limit their outright lies to matters not easily checked — hidden affairs, under the table deals, and so on. But now we have the man who ran the Miss Universe competition in Moscow three years ago, and who declared just last year that “I know Russia well,” then last month said, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”

On matters of policy, politicians used to limit their misrepresentations of facts and impacts to relatively hard-to-verify assertions. When George W. Bush insisted that his tax cuts mainly went to the middle class, this wasn’t true, but it took some number-crunching to show that. Mr. Trump, however, makes claims like his assertion that the murder rate — which ticked up in 2015 but is still barely half what it was in 1990 — is at a 45-year high. Furthermore, he just keeps repeating such claims after they’ve been debunked.

And the question is, who’s going to stop him?

The moral vacuity of Republicans in Congress, and the unlikelihood that they’ll act as any check on the president, becomes clearer with each passing day. Even the real possibility that we’re facing subversion by agents of a foreign power, and that top officials are part of the story, doesn’t seem to faze them as long as they can get tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor.

Meanwhile, Republican primary election voters, who are the real arbiters when polarized and/or gerrymandered districts make the general election irrelevant for many politicians, live in a Fox News bubble into which awkward truths never penetrate.

And what about the Fourth Estate? Will it let us down, too?

To be fair, the first weeks of the Trump administration have in important ways been glory days for journalism; one must honor the professionalism and courage of the reporters who have been ferreting out the secrets this authoritarian-minded clique is so determined to keep.

But then you watch something like the way much of the news media responded to Mr. Trump’s congressional address, and you feel despair. It was a speech filled with falsehoods and vile policy proposals, but read calmly off the teleprompter — and suddenly everyone was declaring the liar in chief “presidential.”

The point is that if that’s all it takes to exonerate the most dishonest man ever to hold high office in America, we’re doomed. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.

It will.

Krugman’s blog, 3/1/17

March 2, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Coal Is A State Of Mind:”

The big news from last night’s speech is that our pundits is not learning. After all the debacles of 2016, they swooned over the fact that Trump — while still lying time after time and proposing truly vile initiatives — was able to read from a teleprompter without breaking into an insane rant. If American democracy falls, supposed political analysts who are actually just bad theater critics will share part of the blame.

But that aside, I was struck by Trump’s continued insistence that he’s going to bring back coal jobs. This says something remarkable both about him and about the body politic.

He is not, of course, going to bring back coal mining as an occupation. Coal employment’s plunge began decades ago, driven mainly by the switch to strip mining and mountaintop removal. A partial revival after the oil crises of the 70s was followed by a renewed downturn (under Reagan!), with fracking and cheap gas mainly delivering the final blow. Giving coal companies new freedom to pollute streams and utilities freedom to destroy the planet won’t make any noticeable dent in the trend.

But here’s the question: why are people so fixated on coal jobs anyway?

Even in the heart of coal country, the industry hasn’t really been a major source of employment for a very long time. Compare mining with occupations that basically are some form of healthcare in West Virginia, as percentages of total employment:

Even in West Virginia, the typical worker is basically a nurse, not a miner — and that has been true for decades.

So why did that state overwhelmingly support a candidate who won’t bring back any significant number of mining jobs, but quite possibly will destroy healthcare for many — which means jobs lost as well as lives destroyed?

The answer, I’d guess, is that coal isn’t really about coal — it’s a symbol of a social order that is no more; both good things (community) and bad (overt racism). Trump is selling the fantasy that this old order can be restored, with seemingly substantive promises about specific jobs mostly just packaging.

One thought that follows is that Trump may not be as badly hurt by the failure of his promises as one might expect: he can’t deliver coal jobs, but he can deliver punishment to various kinds of others. I guess we’ll see.