Krugman’s blog, 1/6/17

January 7, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Macrohypocrisy:”

Paul Waldman has a righteous rant on Congressional Republicans, who posed as the hawkiest of deficit hawks as long as a Democrat was in the White House, but are now fine with huge debt increases under Trump. But really, is anyone except the fiscal scolds surprised? The fraudulence and flim-flam of GOP deficit poseurs was obvious all along.

What is true is that the GOP flip-flop – flim-flam-flop? – is especially noteworthy because of the macroeconomic timing. Deficits were the ultimate evil when the economy was depressed, monetary policy was stymied by the zero lower bound, and we really needed fiscal expansion. Now deficits are fine at precisely the moment when the economy seems to be fairly close to full employment, the Fed is starting to hike rates, and the case for fiscal expansion, while not completely absent, is fairly subtle, resting mainly on the precautionary motive.

But will Republicans pay a price for their hypocrisy? Probably not: my guess is that professional centrists will move the center, as they always do, to declare both parties equally at fault, while the news media will continue to canonize Paul Ryan, who looks Very Serious as he instantly abandons all his supposed principles.

And meanwhile I and other Keynesians are getting mail accusing us of being the hypocrites: “You were for deficits when Obama was in, now they’re bad!”

But as I just said, the situation has changed.

Nobody knows precisely how close we are to full employment; we have very little reason to trust estimates of the NAIRU, if such a thing even exists at low inflation rates. However, some unambiguous indicators of labor market tightness clearly show an economy looking much more like its pre-crisis self than it did a few years ago. As the figure shows, wages are finally rising at a reasonable clip, and quit rates are more or less normal, suggesting that jobs are relatively easy to find.

I’d be a lot more comfortable about the state of affairs if we had more-or-less full employment along with an interest rate well clear of the ZLB, so that the Fed had evident room to cut in the next recession; the fact that we don’t is why I still think modest fiscal stimulus is appropriate, and so is monetary forbearance until inflation is higher. But it’s nothing like the situation in 2010.

When the macroeconomic situation changes, I change my policy recommendations. What do you do?

Collins, solo

January 7, 2017

In “Arms and the Trump” Ms. Collins says it’s another day, with another terrible shooting.  Here she is:

When a man at a Florida airport retrieves his luggage, takes out a gun and kills five people, the only part people are surprised about is that it happened at an airport.

In the grand sweep of American gunfire in the 21st century, all we can say about Friday’s Fort Lauderdale tragedy was that it’s the worst mass shooting so far in 2017. But there have already been six incidents with more than three dead or wounded victims. On Wednesday, three family members in Fontana, Calif., were killed in their home and another critically wounded. A 73-year-old relative was charged. Never even entered the national conversation.

But the Fort Lauderdale case was personal — almost everybody travels through airports. “You just can’t imagine how this could ever happen in a state like ours,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott at a press conference. A few minutes later he did remember to refer to the fact that last year 49 people were shot to death in a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Officials were still unsorting the history of the suspect, identified as Esteban Santiago, and trying to determine whether he was inspired, even in a totally deranged way, by ISIS. Whenever these tragedies happen, the nation holds its breath until there’s an assurance that it did not involve terrorism. If we get the word, there’s a sigh of relief and we go back to living in a country where a random guy will suddenly open fire in a mall or theater or school just because he’s nuts and has a gun.

In theory, when a horrific tragedy occurs, the nation is supposed to join hands and come together. It’s hard to do that in mass shooting cases because America is a land divided between gun places and non-gun places. The immediate reaction of many folks from gun places to the Fort Lauderdale shooting was that — aha! — Florida is one of the few states where it’s illegal to carry a gun anywhere in an airline terminal.

Meanwhile, many people in non-gun places wondered why airline passengers were allowed to have firearms in their luggage.

It’s hard to have a rational gun conversation in a country with such a cultural chasm. It’s the job of our national officials to bridge the gap. And it ought to be possible, since there are some important issues on which almost everybody agrees. One is that gun purchases should be run through background checks to make sure the buyer doesn’t have a record of lawbreaking or serious mental problems.

We will be arguing for a while about whether background checks could have stopped the Florida airport shooting. But either way, sensible regulation of gun sales will still be sensible regulation of gun sales.

This is the moment where I tell you that our president-elect does not believe in sensible regulation of gun sales.

Donald Trump’s position on gun laws has gone through a rather familiar evolution. Back in the day he was a sort of indifferent moderate. Then came the campaign and a love affair with the National Rifle Association, which dumped about $30 million into the effort to get Trump elected president.

Soon, he was fantasizing about packing heat during the Paris terrorist shootings. (“I can tell you that if I had been in the Bataclan or in the cafes, I would have opened fire. I may have been killed, but I would have drawn.”)

He appeared, during one rally, to suggest that if Hillary Clinton was elected president, gun lovers might want to take her out. (“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.”)

And he has consistently endorsed the theory that if more people were carrying around guns, the nation would be a much safer place. Donald Trump Jr., a chairman of his dad’s new Second Amendment Coalition, declared, “My father defends the Second Amendment so that you and I and your spouse and your children can take care of themselves when someone much stronger, much meaner, and much more vicious than them tries to break into their home.”

In the real world, the chances that having a weapon in the house will translate into protecting the family from a vicious housebreaker are infinitesimal, and far, far smaller than the chances that someone in the family will wind up shot by the very same weapon.

But about the background checks: The N.R.A. lobbyists hate them. And Trump has promised that as soon as he’s sworn in, he’ll “unsign” Barack Obama’s executive order closing a big loophole involving online sales and gun shows.

Trump could make a really good start this month by just — not doing anything divisive. Give the country a hint that the guy who terrified so many Americans during the campaign will be more measured in office. Leave the background checks alone. We’ve been through a lot.

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.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 5, 2017

In “The Anti-Inauguration” Mr. Blow suggests that we augment our outrage with actions that are affirming.  Mr. Kristof considers “The G.O.P. Health Care Hoax” and says Republicans plan to replace Obamacare with TBD.  In “Reality Politics, Starring Donald Trump” Ms. Collins says it’s here and it can’t be canceled for four years.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States is just two weeks away, so now is the time to begin making plans to send him the strongest possible signal that your opposition to the presidency he has foreshadowed will not be pouting and passive, but active and animated.

Now is the time to begin making your plans for the anti-inauguration.

Exclaiming your resistance, while necessary, is insufficient. Resistance is a negative position. While negativity in the face of this menace is justified and admirable, negativity alone is a fractional response. As with most things in a fully articulated life, balance is required. You need to augment your outrage with actions that are affirming, behaviors that reinforce principles and values.

When politics seem out of your control, remember that community and culture are very much in your control. We help shape the world we inhabit every day. A life is a collection of thousands of decisions, large and small, made every day. Make those decisions with purpose and conviction, especially for Jan. 20.

The point is not necessarily to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, but rather to deprive it of oxygen and eyeballs; to plant a flag of resistance firmly at the opening gate. This doesn’t mean that people won’t attend or watch. They will. But every station that carries it, as many will, should feel the impact of your absence.

Just because succession of power in our fragile democracy isn’t denied by dictator or compelled by coup does not mean that the majority of Americans who voted for someone other than Trump, and view his ascension as an offense, should feel any pressure or compunction to bear witness to the pomp and pageantry surrounding the installation of a demi-fascist and full-blown demagogue as president.

This ceremony is part of a governmental apparatus meant to project a picture of seamless continuity and normalcy to Americans and the world.

But making Trump appear normal is contingent on public cooperation, which must be denied.

Here are some ways to make your opposition felt and bring forth some light on the impending Day of Darkness.

Protest.

Protests are being organized all over the country, including in the capital itself. Join in. One group, under the banner “Not My President,” is even planning a silent protest at the U.S. Capitol. Then of course there will be the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration. With more than 100,000 people saying they will attend on Facebook, and organizers estimating that they could get 200,000, this could be the largest anti-Trump rally yet.

Volunteer.

If you can’t travel to Washington or if there are no protests being organized in your area, volunteer at an agency or nonprofit that serves a community or advocates on an issue that has been directly targeted by the incoming president. These range from women’s rights, to civil liberties, to immigrant outreach, to environmental protection.

Donate.

If you can’t find a way to volunteer, donate. These groups will need as much funding as possible to defend themselves and their positions from a hostile administration and compliant Congress.

Subscribe.

Coming from me this may sound self-interested, but please try to look over my obvious and admitted conflict to see that the press, even with all its flaws — particularly those exposed during this election — is one of the last lines of defense against corruption and a slide toward autocracy. Trump’s hostility to, and delegitimizing of, the press is a deliberate tactic meant to shield him against future discovery and disclosure.

As Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, said on CNN’s Reliable Sources last month:

“If Donald Trump is trying to inoculate himself in advance, it’s like giving himself a vaccine, to prevent the illness that’s going to come when the media turn on his tax returns if they get another leak on it, when they look at some of the business dealings as he’s talking to foreign leaders. There are all kinds of stories that you can imagine, that have already been written, some of them, and what he’s trying to do here is, as I say, sort of inoculate himself by demonizing media. So, don’t believe anything they say.”

Read.

Spend part of the day reading about the rise and fall of empires and how it always seems far-fetched and inconceivable until it actually happens. There are many books that address this topic, but if you want something shorter, try Andrew Sullivan’s “Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic,” a counterintuitive meditation on how tyranny can spring from populism, or my colleague Paul Krugman’s “How Republics End.”

But, by all means, read something. That is oppositional in and of itself when facing a frightening man who seems constitutionally averse to intelligence — from national intelligence to individual intelligence — and who is apparently, how shall I say this, far from a voracious reader.

Watch.

If you must watch something on Jan. 20, try to find specific anti-inauguration counterprogramming. CNN this week reported one such effort:

“A group of entrepreneurs have banded together to create Love-a-thon, a Jerry Lewis-style telethon for the digital age. Love-a-thon will be a three-hour Facebook Live broadcast, beginning at 12:30 p.m. E.T. on Inauguration Day, January 20. The move is a part of an effort to raise money for three organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, Planned Parenthood and Earthjustice.”

Write.

If you don’t already know, find out who all your representatives in government are, from the local level to the national level, get their addresses, and send them a letter or an email expressing your views and explaining in no uncertain terms what you expect from them going forward. Warn that if they let you down, you will remember your disappointment at the polls. Public pressure has a very real impact on political power. Don’t be silent. Don’t be invisible. Make them remember your name.

Connect.

Reach out to your friends and family — the people in what I call your “great sphere of influence.” First, let them know that you love them. This may seem mawkish, but in the wake of Trump’s hateful rhetoric, expressions of love and support are necessary. But beyond that, make sure that they too have an anti-inauguration plan. If they don’t, have them join you in yours. Also, make sure that everyone in your sphere is registered to vote.

You have the power to make anti-inauguration day an enormously effective first step on the path forward through an arduous four years, which promise to be difficult to navigate. Affirmative actions must be as much your guide and solace as resistance is your fuel and fire.

Remember your pre-Trump ideals and make sure that they survive into a post-Trump world.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

This week, President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans began to dismantle Obamacare, and here are the details of their replacement plan:

—— —- —- —- – —— —- —— —- – —- —- — —— —- —— —- —- —- — — – – – – —— —- —- —— —- —- —- – —— —- —— —- – —- —- — —— —- – —- —- — – —- —- — —— —- – —- —- — – —- —-

That captures the nonexistent Republican plan to replace Obamacare. They’re telling Americans who feel trapped by health care problems: “Jump! Maybe we’ll catch you.”

This G.O.P. fraud is called “repeal and delay.” That means repealing the Affordable Care Act, effective in a few years without specifying what will replace it.

If the Republicans ran a home renovation business, they would start tearing down your roof this month and promise to return in 2019 with some options for a new one — if you survived.

And survival will be a real issue. The bottom line of the G.O.P. approach is that millions of Americans will lose insurance, and thousands more will die unnecessarily each year because of lack of care.

The paradox of Obamacare is that it is both unpopular and saves lives. Preliminary research suggests that it has already begun saving lives, but it’s too early to have robust data on the improvements to life expectancy among the additional 20 million people who have gained insurance. It is notable that an Urban Institute study found that on the eve of Obamacare’s start, lack of health insurance was killing one American every 24 minutes.

One careful study found that the Republican health care plan in Massachusetts, which was the model for Obamacare, noticeably lowered mortality rates. For every additional 830 adults covered by insurance, one death was prevented each year.

The American College of Physicians warned this week that the G.O.P. course could result in seven million Americans losing their health insurance this year alone, by causing parts of the insurance market to implode. Back-of-envelope calculations suggest that the upshot would be an additional 8,400 Americans dying annually.

How can insurance make such a difference?

I’ve written about my college roommate Scott Androes, a fellow farm boy from Oregon, who switched careers in 2003 and didn’t buy health insurance on the individual market because it was so expensive. Then in 2011 he had trouble urinating and didn’t see a doctor because of the cost.

By 2012 he had blood in his urine and finally was scared enough that he sought medical help. He had waited too long: He had stage IV prostate cancer.

“I blew it,” Scott told me. “I feel like a damned fool.” He showed immense courage in agreeing to tell his story — despite concern that his legacy would be an article highlighting his foolishness — because he wanted people to understand the human cost of a lack of universal insurance. He died soon afterward.

That’s the system that the Republicans are trying to take us back to.

Americans spend two or three times as much on health care as a share of G.D.P. as other industrialized countries but get worse outcomes. American children are 75 percent more likely to die in the first five years of life than British or German children, according to World Bank data, and American women are twice as likely to die in pregnancy as Canadian women. The reasons have to do partly with American poverty, and partly with the high number of uninsured.

Trump would have you believe that he will keep the popular parts of Obamacare, such as the ban on discriminating against pre-existing conditions, while eliminating unpopular parts like the mandate. That’s impossible: The good and bad depend on each other.

The Trump approach would be like trying to amputate a dog’s rear end so you wouldn’t have to clean up its messes. It just doesn’t work that way.

A full repeal of Obamacare would also worsen the deficit. The Congressional Budget Office said in 2015 that “repealing the A.C.A. would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over the 2016-2025 period.” That’s more than $1,000 per American household.

Yes, health policy makes eyes glaze over. But focus on these two points: By broad agreement, the number of people insured will drop if Republicans “repeal and delay,” and more uninsured Americans means more Americans dying. That’s why the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association and even conservative health care analysts have warned Congress not to repeal Obamacare without stipulating what comes next.

Republicans spent $7 million investigating the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi and ultimately found no evidence of high-level wrongdoing. Now they are rushing toward a scam that may cost thousands of American lives every year.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Two big political events this week. A new Congress started work and “The New Celebrity Apprentice” arrived on TV.

“Celebrity Apprentice” is now hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former action movie star who became a governor and is now recycling back into entertainment. He is replacing Donald Trump, a former reality TV star now preparing to move into the White House. Trump’s cabinet choices include one former governor who transitioned into “Dancing With the Stars” and is now seeking to become secretary of energy.

On Wednesday we learned that Omarosa Manigault, a former “Apprentice” contestant who’s said she’s done “20-plus reality shows,” is joining the new White House staff.

I think we are seeing a pattern here. Two major questions:

One is whether we’re going to wind up getting the next generation of political leaders out of these shows. If there were two tracks to becoming a future presidential candidate, would you rather collect thousands of signatures to run for the state assembly, or just spend a month locked in a house with a dozen strangers and 100 cameras?

O.K., you are a serious citizen and I do believe you would go for the signatures. But trust me, the future is not on your side.

The other question is whether the actual workings of government are coming to resemble a long-running reality TV series.

Senate Republicans began their year with health care. Their plan requires brave lawmakers to vote that Obamacare be replaced by Something Different. Nobody knows exactly what Something Different looks like. The Republicans are just sure it’s out there — sort of like the hidden immunity idol on “Survivor.”

“The answer here is bold action,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan. Think of it this way: Repeal is Season 1. To find out what really happens, you’re going to have to tune in for Season 2, when Paul and the gang go off to a Pacific island, where they will compete to find the health care plan concealed under a rock in the forest.

But about the first week of Congress. The House Republicans started things off by voting to castrate the office that oversees legislators’ ethics. This was such a terrible beginning that you can’t help wondering if it was staged to gin up a little excitement and make Trump, who tweeted his opposition, look … bold. It’s like one of those “Real Housewives” shows where people walk into the room and instantly start telling X what Y just said about her downstairs.

The important thing was that Trump expressed his displeasure via Twitter, which is most certainly going to be the prime method of communication in reality politics.

How can you beat it? If the North Koreans say they’re building a weapon that could nuke America, you tweet “won’t happen.” Mission accomplished. If there’s deep confusion about Russian hacking in the last election, you announce that you’ll clear everything up by Tuesday. When Tuesday arrives you can tweet that a critical intelligence briefing had been delayed until Friday. And just to be clear what you think of folks like the C.I.A., you put “Intelligence” in quotes and add “Very strange!”

This is the future, people. Little tiny messages that end with a teeny-weeny sentence with an exclamation point. Soon we’ll look on email as an incredibly laborious method of communication, like our parents regarded 20-page letters written with quill pens. Trump saw the future a long time ago. “Half of my friends are under indictment right now because they sent emails to each other about how they’re screwing people,” he confided to Howard Stern back in 2005. “They’ll write you a message that they’re having sex with 15 different married women. It’s unbelievable. Email is unbelievable.”

So unbelievable.

Trump actually did once have an email address, MrTrump@GoTrump.com, which was advertised as a place where you could both do your travel booking and get “travel tips and advice” from the man himself. That business is no more, like the Trump steaks.

However, the president-elect does still have a connection to “Celebrity Apprentice,” where he is listed as an executive producer. Of course, anybody can be an executive producer — you’re reading this, so you can call yourself executive producer of reading. Yet why would the future president of the United States want credit for making a cheesy reality show, currently starring a guy who supported John Kasich in the primaries?

If you think of an answer, tweet it.

Trump’s alleged oversight has not stopped “Celebrity Apprentice” from being a pretty pathetic effort at entertainment. This week it lost in the ratings to “The Bachelor.” The new candidate there is a guy named Nick who has already been on three reality dating shows before. He has not found love, so it does seem as if his life requires a new direction. I am thinking the next stop’s the Iowa caucuses.

 

Friedman and Bruni

January 4, 2017

In “From Hands to Heads to Hearts” The Moustache of Wisdom says that remembering what makes us human is how to show economic value in the age of smarter and smarter machines.  It’s a very typical Friedman column…  Mr. Bruni, in “Donald Trump’s Disastrous Example,” says the mess over a congressional ethics office reflects the muck of his own behavior.  Here’s TMOW:

Software has started writing poetry, sports stories and business news. IBM’s Watson is co-writing pop hits. Uber has begun deploying self-driving taxis on real city streets and, last month, Amazon delivered its first package by drone to a customer in rural England.

Add it all up and you quickly realize that Donald Trump’s election isn’t the only thing disrupting society today. The far more profound disruption is happening in the workplace and in the economy at large, as the relentless march of technology has brought us to a point where machines and software are not just outworking us but starting to outthink us in more and more realms.

To reflect on this rapid change, I sat down with my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, C.E.O. of LRN, which advises companies on leadership and how to build ethical cultures, for his take. “What we are experiencing today bears striking similarities in size and implications to the scientific revolution that began in the 16th century,” said Seidman. “The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, which spurred that scientific revolution, challenged our whole understanding of the world around and beyond us — and forced us as humans to rethink our place within it.”

Once scientific methods became enshrined, we used science and reason to navigate our way forward, he added, so much so that “the French philosopher René Descartes crystallized this age of reason in one phrase: ‘I think, therefore I am.’” Descartes’s point, said Seidman, “was that it was our ability to ‘think’ that most distinguished humans from all other animals on earth.”

The technological revolution of the 21st century is as consequential as the scientific revolution, argued Seidman, and it is “forcing us to answer a most profound question — one we’ve never had to ask before: ‘What does it mean to be human in the age of intelligent machines?’”

In short: If machines can compete with people in thinking, what makes us humans unique? And what will enable us to continue to create social and economic value? The answer, said Seidman, is the one thing machines will never have: “a heart.”

“It will be all the things that the heart can do,” he explained. “Humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.”

Therefore, Seidman added, our highest self-conception needs to be redefined from “I think, therefore I am” to “I care, therefore I am; I hope, therefore I am; I imagine, therefore I am. I am ethical, therefore I am. I have a purpose, therefore I am. I pause and reflect, therefore I am.”

We will still need manual labor, and people will continue working with machines to do extraordinary things. Seidman is simply arguing that the tech revolution will force humans to create more value with hearts and between hearts. I agree. When machines and software control more and more of our lives, people will seek out more human-to-human connections — all the things you can’t download but have to upload the old-fashioned way, one human to another.

Seidman reminded me of a Talmudic adage: “What comes from the heart, enters the heart.” Which is why even jobs that still have a large technical component will benefit from more heart. I call these STEMpathy jobs — jobs that combine STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills with human empathy, like the doctor who can extract the best diagnosis from IBM’s Watson on cancer and then best relate it to a patient.

No wonder one of the fastest-growing U.S. franchises today is Paint Nite, which runs paint-while-drinking classes for adults. Bloomberg Businessweek explained in a 2015 story that Paint Nite “throws after-work parties for patrons who are largely lawyers, teachers and tech workers eager for a creative hobby.” The artist-teachers who work five nights a week can make $50,000 a year connecting people to their hearts.

Economies get labeled according to the predominant way people create value, pointed out Seidman, also author of the book “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.” So, the industrial economy, he noted, “was about hired hands. The knowledge economy was about hired heads. The technology revolution is thrusting us into ‘the human economy,’ which will be more about creating value with hired hearts — all the attributes that can’t be programmed into software, like passion, character and collaborative spirit.”

It’s no surprise that the French government began requiring French companies on Jan. 1 to guarantee their employees a “right to disconnect” from technology — when they are not at work — trying to combat the “always on” work culture.

Leaders, businesses and communities will still leverage technology to gain advantage, but those that put human connection at the center of everything they do — and how they do it — will be the enduring winners, insisted Seidman: “Machines can be programmed to do the next thing right. But only humans can do the next right thing.”

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Donald Trump rightly reprimanded House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to disembowel the Office of Congressional Ethics, but let’s not be duped or dumb. This was like a crackhead dad fuming at his kids for smoking a little weed.

Their conduct hardly measured up to his, which obviously encouraged it. When they look at him, here’s what they see: a presidential candidate who broke with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns and thus shine a light on his conflicts of interest. A president-elect who has yet to spell out how he would eliminate those conflicts — and who has, instead, repeatedly reminded reporters and voters that he’s under no explicit legal obligation to eliminate them at all. A plutocrat whose children have toggled back and forth between his government activities and his corporate interests, raising questions about the separation of the two.

Is it any wonder that House Republicans felt O.K. about trying to slip free of some of their own ethical shackles, no matter how ugly the optics?

The story here isn’t what, specifically, they attempted to do. Nor is it their abandonment of the plan once the media gasped and their dear leader wagged his finger at them.

It’s the tone that Trump has set and the culture that he’s creating. He operates with an in-your-face defiance, so these House Republicans did, too. He puts his own desires and comfort first, so they reserved the right to do the same. With more than a few of his cabinet picks, he demonstrated little sense of fidelity to what he promised voters and even less concern about appearances. House Republicans decided to treat themselves to a taste of that freedom.

In this instance, they were slapped down, though I sincerely doubt that they came away from the confrontation with the feeling that Trump had higher standards than they imagined. No, they just realized that he’s even more hypocritical and inconstant than they expected.

The Office of Congressional Ethics is no model operation. Democrats as well as Republicans have chafed at what some of them see as its occasional overzealousness and disregard for due process. Had House Republicans called for a bipartisan and transparent review of its role and tactics, they might not have encountered all that much resistance.

But that’s not what happened. In a secretive closed-door meeting late Monday, before the first official day of the new Congress, the House Republican Conference voted to diminish the office’s power and independence. This was dark-of-night, no-prying-eyes stuff, done over the objections of Paul Ryan, the House speaker, who could sense how disastrously it would play in the media.

After it played precisely that disastrously, Trump sent out two tweets Tuesday morning asking why House Republicans would take aim at the ethics office when there was so much other important work to do. House Republicans then dropped the plan.

The whole mess said a whole lot about the chaotic days to come. Although Ryan on Tuesday was re-elected to his leadership post, his grip on his caucus isn’t exactly a firm one. And the wires between Trump and House Republicans are evidently crossed.

For that matter, the wires between Trump and Kellyanne Conway are as well: Mere hours before he tweeted his disapproval of what the Republicans were doing, she appeared on “Good Morning America” and defended their actions as part of the “mandate” — her word, or rather hallucination — that they and Trump had received from voters to shake things up.

I suppose that gutting the ethics office would indeed qualify as a shake-up. But so would declaring Thursdays in the Senate to be clothing-optional or having the Rockettes perform during the State of the Union. Not all shake-ups are created equal.

And turning “mandate” into a mantra, which is a favorite Republican tactic right now, doesn’t turn it into a truth. There’s no mandate here, not when Hillary Clinton received roughly three million more votes than Trump did. Not when there are lingering questions about meddling that may have worked in Trump’s favor. Not when the Republicans’ majorities in the Senate and House just shrank. Not when their edge in the House owes more to gerrymandering than to any tidal wave of demonstrable enthusiasm for their agenda.

I’m not disputing the election results or Republicans’ right — heck, their obligation — to seize the reins of leadership. I’m arguing against the shamelessness of what they just tried to do with the ethics office.

And I’m pleading that Trump stop behaving in a way that sets the stage for it. The new Congress — the new Washington — will be no more or less swampy than its new top gator. Best that he wash away his own muck.

He won’t.

Solo Bobo

January 3, 2017

In “The Snapchat Presidency of Donald Trump” Bobo says the next occupant (at least part time) of the White House won’t lead or communicate policy like a normal leader.  Might that be because he’s NOT NORMAL, Bobo?  And “gemli” from Boston will have a thing or two to say in rebuttal.  Here’s Bobo:

Normal leaders come up with policy proposals in a certain conventional way. They gather their advisers around them and they debate alternatives — with briefing papers, intelligence briefings and implementation strategies.

Donald Trump doesn’t do that. He’s tweeted out policy gestures in recent weeks, say about the future of America’s nuclear arsenal. But these gestures aren’t attached to anything. They emerged from no analytic process and point to no implemental effects. Trump’s statements seem to spring spontaneously from his middle-of-night feelings. They are astoundingly ambiguous and defy interpretation.

Normal leaders serve an office. They understand that the president isn’t a lone monarch. He is the temporary occupant of a powerful public post. He’s the top piece of a big system, and his ability to create change depends on his ability to leverage and mobilize the system. His statements are carefully parsed around the world because presidential shifts in verbal emphasis are not personal shifts; they are national shifts that signal changes in a superpower’s actual behavior.

Donald Trump doesn’t think in that way, either. He is anti-system. As my “PBS NewsHour” colleague Mark Shields points out, he has no experience being accountable to anybody, to a board of directors or an owner. As president-elect, he has not begun attaching himself to the system of governance he’ll soon oversee.

If anything, Trump is detaching himself. In a very public way, he’s detached himself from the intelligence community that normally serves as the president’s eyes and ears. He’s talked about not really moving to the White House, the nerve center of the executive branch. He’s sided with a foreign leader, Vladimir Putin, against his own governmental structures.

Finally, normal leaders promulgate policies. They measure their days by how they propose and champion actions and legislation.

Trump doesn’t think in this way, either. He is a creature of the parts of TV and media where display is an end in itself. He is not really interested in power; his entire life has been about winning attention and status to build the Trump image for low-class prestige. The posture is the product.

When Trump issues a statement, it may look superficially like a policy statement, but it’s usually just a symbolic assault in some dominance-submission male rivalry game. It’s trash-talking against a rival, Barack Obama, or a media critic like CNN. Trump may be bashing Obama on Russia or the Mideast, but it’s not because he has implementable policies in those realms. The primary thing is bashing enemies.

Over the past weeks, we’ve treated the president-elect’s comments as normal policy statements uttered by a normal president-elect. Each time Trump says or tweets something, squads of experts leap into action, trying to interpret what he could have meant, or how his intention could lead to changes in American policy.

But this is probably the wrong way to read Trump. He is more postmodern. He does not operate by an if-then logic. His mode is not decision, implementation, consequence.

His statements should probably be treated less like policy declarations and more like Snapchat. They exist to win attention at the moment, but then they disappear.

To read Trump correctly, it’s probably best to dig up old French deconstructionists like Jean Baudrillard, who treated words not as things that have meanings in themselves but as displays in an oppositional power struggle. Trump is not a national leader; he is a national show.

If this is all true, it could be that the governing Trump will be a White House holograph. When it comes to the substance of actual governance, it could be that President Trump is the man who isn’t there.

The crucial question of the Trump administration could be: Who will fill the void left by a leader who is all facade?

It could be the senior staff. Trump will spew out a stream of ambiguous tweets, then the hypermacho tough guys Trump has selected will battle viciously with one another to determine which way the administration will really go.

It could be congressional Republicans. They have an off-the-shelf agenda they are hoping that figurehead Trump will sign, though it has nothing to do with the issues that drove the presidential campaign.

It could be the permanent bureaucracy, which has an impressive passive-aggressive ability to let the politicians have their press conference fun and then ignore everything that’s “decided.”

I’ll be curious to see if Trump’s public rhetoric becomes operationalized in any way. For example, I bet his bromance with Putin will end badly. The two men are both such blustery, insecure, aggressive public posturers, sooner or later they will get in a schoolyard fight.

It will be interesting to see if that brawl is just an escalating but ultimately harmless volley of verbiage, or whether it affects the substance of government policy and leads to nuclear war.

Happy New Year!

Krugman, solo

January 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, America is rapidly turning into a stan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brooks and Krugman

December 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But will it be killed anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Krugman’s blog, 12/28/16

December 29, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Greed Springs Eternal:”

Jonathan Chait catches Larry Kudlow praising the Orange One for choosing a cabinet of billionaires, because rich men are incorruptible — after all, they don’t need even more money. As Chait says, this is ludicrous on its face; consider, for example, Russia’s oligarchs.

What Chait doesn’t note is the special irony of seeing this argument from Kudlow, or indeed any right-wing advocate of supply-side economics. Remember, their whole worldview is based around the claim that cutting taxes on rich people will work economic miracles, because of incentives: let a plutocrat keep more of an extra dollar in income, and he’ll innovate, create jobs, lead us to an earthly paradise in order to get that extra income.

To belabor what should be obvious: either the wealthy care about having more money or they don’t. If lower marginal tax rates are an incentive to produce more, the prospect of personal gain is an incentive to engage in corrupt practices. You can’t go all Ayn Rand/Gordon Gekko on the importance of greed as a motivator while claiming that wealth insulates a man from temptation.

Now, for what it’s worth, the reality is clearly that even the insanely wealthy generally want more. You can ask why they want it; the hedonistic pleasures of luxury must surely top out at a tiny fraction of what the average Trump nominee is worth. Gold-plated toilets don’t flush any better than the usual kind. But for such people, money is about ego, power, winning the game. Greed has no limit.

But what’s more interesting and revealing, I think, is the way people like Kudlow for whom incentives are supposedly all suddenly say something completely different when it comes to conflicts of interest.

And this is telling us something significant: namely, that supply-side economic theory is and always was a sham. It was never about the incentives; it was just another excuse to make the rich richer.

Friedman and Collins

December 29, 2016

In “Bibi Netanyahu Makes Trump His Chump” The Moustache of Wisdom says a true friend of Israel wouldn’t enable Netanyahu.  Ms. Collins has her annual “Year’s End Quiz” in which she says let’s take a look back on 2016 and see how much of the silliness you remember.  Here’s TMOW:

For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.

But they are convinced — rightly — that Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.

That is what precipitated this fight over Obama’s decision not to block a U.N. resolution last week criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlers’ goal is very clear, as Kerry put it on Wednesday: to strategically place settlements “in locations that make two states impossible,” so that Israel will eventually annex all of the West Bank. Netanyahu knows this will bring huge problems, but his heart is with the settlers, and his passion is with holding power — at any cost. So in any crunch, he sides with the settlers, and they keep pushing.

Obama ordered the U.S. to abstain on the U.N. resolution condemning the settlements (three months after Obama forged a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package for Israel — the largest for any U.S. ally ever) in hopes of sparking a debate inside Israel and to prevent it from closing off any chance of a two-state solution.

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, and right now Obama and Kerry rightly believe that Israel is driving drunk toward annexing the West Bank and becoming either a bi-national Arab-Jewish state or some Middle Eastern version of 1960s South Africa, where Israel has to systematically deprive large elements of its population of democratic rights to preserve the state’s Jewish character.

Israel is clearly now on a path toward absorbing the West Bank’s 2.8 million Palestinians. There are already 1.7 million Arabs living in Israel, so putting these two Arab populations together would constitute a significant minority with a higher birthrate than that of Israeli Jews — who number 6.3 million — posing a demographic and democratic challenge.

I greatly sympathize with Israel’s security problems. If I were Israel, I would not relinquish control of the West Bank borders — for now. The Arab world is far too unstable, and Hamas, which controls another 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, would likely take over the West Bank.

My criticism of Netanyahu is not that he won’t simply quit all the West Bank; it is that he refuses to show any imagination or desire to build workable alternatives that would create greater separation and win Israel global support, such as radical political and economic autonomy for Palestinians in the majority of the West Bank, free of settlements, while Israel still controls the borders and the settlements close to it.

Bibi never lays down a credible peace plan that truly puts the ball in the Palestinians’ court. And when someone like Obama exposes that — and Bibi comes under intense criticism from the liberal half of Israel, which sees the country getting more and more isolated and less and less democratic — Bibi just calls Obama an enemy of Israel and caves to the settlers. U.S. Jewish “leaders” then parrot whatever Bibi says. Sad.

More worrisome is the fact that President-elect Donald Trump— who could be a fresh change agent — is letting himself get totally manipulated by right-wing extremists, and I mean extreme. His ambassador-designate to Israel, David Friedman, has compared Jews who favor a two-state solution to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis. I’ve never heard such a vile slur from one Jew to another.

Trump also has no idea how much he is being manipulated into helping Iran and ISIS. What is Iran’s top goal when it comes to Israel? That Israel never leaves the West Bank and that it implants Jewish settlers everywhere there.

That would keep Israel in permanent conflict with Palestinians and the Muslim world, as well as many Western democracies and their college campuses. It would draw all attention away from Iran’s own human rights abuses and enable Iran and ISIS to present themselves as the leading Muslim protectors of Jerusalem — and to present America’s Sunni Arab allies as lackeys of an extremist Israel. This would create all kinds of problems for these Arab regimes. A West Bank on fire would become a recruitment tool for ISIS and Iran.

One day Trump will wake up and discover that he was manipulated into becoming the co-father, with Netanyahu, of an Israel that is either no longer Jewish or no longer democratic. He will discover that he was Bibi’s chump.

What a true friend of Israel and foe of Iran would do today is just what Obama and Kerry tried — assure Israel long-term military superiority to the tune of $38 billion, but, unlike Trump, who is just passing Israel another bottle of wine, tell our dear ally that it’s driving drunk, needs to stop the settlements and apply that amazing Israeli imagination to preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy almost New Year! Wow, we’ve been through a lot. Let’s take a look back on 2016 and see how much of the silliness you remember. We’re not going to talk about Hillary. Too sad. But here’s an end-of-the-year quiz about:

1  REPUBLICANS WE ONCE KNEW

It’s been a long year for Chris Christie, but he made history when …

  • A) The National Governors Association voted him “Least Likely to Succeed.”

  • B) A Quinnipiac poll in New Jersey showed his job disapproval rating at 77 percent.

  • C) He did the tango on “Dancing With the Stars.”

2  Ted Cruz said that when his wife, Heidi, became first lady …

  • A) “She’ll put prayer back in the prayer breakfast.”

  • B) “Michelle Obama’s garden will become a croquet court.”

  • C) “French fries are coming back to the cafeteria.”

3  Marco Rubio’s ad about how “It’s Morning Again in America” made news because …

  • A) It was an excellent depiction of why he is truly a Reagan conservative.

  • B) It was filmed in a way that made Rubio appear to be more than six feet tall.

  • C) It opened with a shot of the Vancouver skyline.

4  In a debate, Ben Carson said that when a president vets potential Supreme Court nominees, he should consider …

  • A) “How they’d look in the group picture.”

  • B) “The fruit salad of their life.”

  • C) “Legal things.”

5  THE CABINET OF TOMORROW

This year Rick Perry, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of energy …

  • A) Lost the paso doble competition to Vanilla Ice on “Dancing With the Stars.”

  • B) Came up with some new ideas for combating global warming.

  • C) Said his earlier reference to Trump’s campaign as “a barking carnival act” was simply “one of my ‘oops’ moments.”

6  Retired Gen. Jim Mattis, Trump’s selection for secretary of defense, is nicknamed …

  • A) Mad Dog.

  • B) Cranky Corgi.

  • C) Sullen Setter.

7  Linda McMahon, Trump’s pick to head the Small Business Administration, has known the president-elect a long time. McMahon’s husband. Vince, once paired with Trump in a …

  • A) Professional wrestling production in which Trump shaved off McMahon’s hair.

  • B) Build-the-Wall golf match in which they tried to see who could hit the most balls into Mexico.

  • C) Public service announcement warning young men about steroid abuse.

8  Trump’s choice for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, is a fast-food franchise baron who once said …

  • A) “Vegetables are much more dangerous than people realize.”

  • B) “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.”

  • C) “Everybody has a minimum wage. Mine just happens to be $1 million a year.”

9  TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP

Trump won the Electoral College by one of the lowest margins in American history, and got nearly three million votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. Afterward, he referred to his victory as …

  • A) “God’s will.”

  • B) “A gift from the founding fathers.”

  • C) “A landslide.”

10  In a TV interview, Trump said that when he looks in the mirror he sees …

  • A) “Orange skin.”

  • B) “Fantastic hair.”

  • C) “A person that is 35 years old.”

11  Trump said he didn’t need a daily intelligence briefing because …

  • A) “I’m, like, a smart person.”

  • B) “The C.I.A. is out to get me.”

  • C) “Putin’s people give me plenty of information.”

12  Trump’s doctor, who wrote the famous letter declaring Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” gave an interview in which he said it had never occurred to him that Trump, at 70, would be the oldest president-elect. But he added …

  • A) “70 is the new 41.”

  • B) “If something happens to him, then it happens to him. … That’s why we have a vice president and a speaker of the House and a whole line of people. They can just keep dying.”

  • C) “Bronzer keeps you young.”

13  AND IN OTHER NEWS …

In a Seattle suburb, Dane Gallion was so unnerved by stories of mass shootings that he armed himself before going to see the movie “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” Watching the film with a handgun tucked into his waistband, Gallion …

  • A) Became a hero when a disturbed man waving a rifle walked into the auditorium.

  • B) Became a hero when he stopped an armed robbery at the snack bar.

  • C) Accidentally shot the woman sitting in front of him.

I’ve got to admit that I had forgotten how utterly and irredeemably stupid some of this crap was…

 

Here’s the answer key:

 

 

1B, 2C, 3C, 4B, 5A, 6A, 7A, 8B, 9C, 10C, 11A, 12B, 13C