Bruni, solo

November 30, 2016

Mr. Bruni thinks he can make “The Case For Mitt Romney.”  He says Donald Trump’s smartest move would be to make one of his fiercest critics his secretary of state.  And, given today’s NYT lead headline and story, it would appear that the Mittbot 2.0 has been sufficiently reprogrammed to suck up to Mein Fubar.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

A show of hands, please: How many of you would like Donald Trump to step away — far away — from his Twitter account? I’m pretty sure I have a majority, but to be safe: How many can at least agree on no tweets before breakfast?

Yowza. I’m above 95 percent. Reince, you don’t have to nod wildly and jump up and down; the raised hand alone will do. And you get one hand, Melania, not two. Two is a real, provable case of voter fraud.

Thanks in part to the president-elect’s predilection for outbursts of fewer than 140 characters, he routinely comes across as petty and mercurial. But right now he has an opportunity for the opposite impression. He can choose Mitt Romney as his secretary of state.

That he’s actually mulling this — the two had a second meeting about it, over dinner in Manhattan, Tuesday night — is alone extraordinary. Trump knows how to carry a grudge the way Jim Brown knew how to carry a football, and Romney gave him cause for vengefulness, with a major speech during the Republican primaries that labeled him a fraud and exhorted Americans to reject him.

Had some knowledgeable intimate of Trump’s told me on Nov. 9 that an unexpected fate awaited Romney, the State Department would have been my millionth guess. The stockade would have been my first.

If Trump taps Romney, he’ll be sending a powerful message to an anxious world that he’s not hostage to the darkest parts of his character. He needs to project that as much as we need to see it.

Granted, Romney’s résumé isn’t the most logical for the job. He has spent most of his life as a businessman, and his lone public office was governor of Massachusetts.

But not all our secretaries of state were steeped in foreign affairs from an early point, like Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Many had backgrounds principally devoted to other concerns. That was true of James Baker, who held the post under the first President Bush, and of Hillary Clinton, though she traveled the world as first lady and served on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Besides which, Romney isn’t competing against the entire universe of possibilities. He’s competing against Rudy Giuliani, who, over recent years, has done such a masterful impersonation of a raving lunatic that I doubt he could get seasonal retail work at the Container Store.

David Petraeus is also in play, but his supposed brilliance matters less in this case than his conviction for mishandling classified information. Picking him would brand Trump an utter hypocrite, given how vehemently he threatened to jail Clinton for related trespasses.

As for Senator Bob Corker, he’s a real Washington insider, unlike Romney, and doesn’t have the useful political celebrity that Clinton and then John Kerry brought to the position. Romney does.

Over his own two presidential campaigns, Romney became ever more fluent in international issues, and he even showed some prescience, identifying Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a grave menace before other politicians woke up to that. He was ridiculed for dwelling in the past. Turns out he was living in the future.

That wariness and his advocacy of free trade put him at odds with Trump but also make him a prudent counterbalance, if Trump can find the modesty and confidence to size up the situation that way. (That’s a big if.) So do Romney’s seriousness and unflappability. He’d temper Trump’s tantrums. Giuliani would just goad Trump on.

With Trump’s cabinet and staff picks so far, he has repaid his staunchest supporters. With Romney, he would be taking a more inclusive, conciliatory approach that befits his lack of any mandate, tries to move the country past such a divisive campaign and reassures jittery allies. It would be an open-minded, big-hearted, self-aware move that challenges Americans to see him in a more nuanced light. It would help him govern, by signaling that he’s bigger than his grievances.

Despite the howls of protest from some on the right, it would hardly be an undignified, unprecedented surrender: There was bad blood aplenty between Clinton and President Obama before he brought her aboard.

It would also reward someone who seems to have the country’s best interests at heart. Romney, interestingly, would be following the example of his father, George, who went from Richard Nixon’s adversary to his housing secretary, because a person can arguably do more on the field, under a flawed coach, than on the sidelines, griping. A person can potentially steer the game in a better direction.

So there’s a Trump tweet I do hope to see, at whatever hour he likes: “Impressive dinner with Mitt Romney. I believe he can help us MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. He’s hired!”

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.

Wait until this afternoon, Frank.  The winds will shift again…  And “gemli” from Boston had something to say to Mr. Bruni too.  Here he is:

“Considering the way the Groper in Chief is furnishing his administration, Romney would be a chandelier in an outhouse. Romney’s not someone who would have been a likely candidate for Secretary of State under normal circumstances, but normal has left the building. Romney’s just another guy who was born on third base, with inherited wealth and a family name that opened doors without his having to touch a doorknob.

But in this administration he looks like the voice of reason, mostly because he has good posture and wears nice suits. He doesn’t have that leering quality of a Bannon, and he’s not a wackadoodle like Giuliani, or most of the other picks for the new Alt-White House. And he has foreign credentials, if you count the Olympics thing.

But the idea that Romney would send some kind of signal that the new administration is trying to be inclusive is simply ludicrous. Read the 2012 Republican platform, and see what Romney had planned for women, poor people and the LGBT community. Listen again to what he said on that tape, when he thought no one was listening. Have we forgotten all of this? Is the awfulness of the new “president” capable of causing amnesia, along with intestinal cramps and scrofula?

Romney isn’t going to save America from international condemnation, or make us more respected on a world stage. That stage left the station on November 8th.”

Bobo, solo

November 29, 2016

In “The Future of the American Center” Bobo has tells us that Donald Trump’s victory smashes traditions of party loyalty, presenting opportunities between the extremes.  And “gemli” from Boston will have something to say about that.  Here’s Bobo:

Over the past few decades, party loyalty has been the defining feature of national politics. Especially in the House but even in the Senate, members deferred to their party leaders. Congress as a whole deferred to the presidency. Members of the president’s own party acted as his foot soldiers. Members of the other party acted as his opposition.

But Donald Trump’s victory smashes all that. He is hostile to the Republican establishment. His proposals cut across orthodox partisan lines.

As Bill Kristol told me, the coming Congress may not look like the recent Congresses, when party-line voting was the rule. A vote on an infrastructure bill may look very different from a vote on health care or education or foreign policy. This may be a Congress with many caucuses — floating coalitions rather than just follow-the-leader obedience.

Meanwhile, as Christopher DeMuth wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal, committee chairmen may reassert authority against the executive branch. Trump’s authoritarian style represents an assault on the traditional separation of powers. He may end up energizing all those constitutional forms and practices he stands against.

What’s about to happen in Washington may be a little like the end of the Cold War — bipolarity gives way to multipolarity. A system dominated by two party-line powers gives way to a system with a lot of different power centers. Instead of just R’s and D’s, there will be a Trump-dominated populist nationalism, a more libertarian Freedom Caucus, a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren progressive caucus, a Chuck Schumer/Nancy Pelosi Democratic old guard.

The most important caucus formation will be in the ideological center. There’s a lot of room between the alt-right and the alt-left, between Trumpian authoritarianism and Sanders socialism.

Until now, people in that space have been slow to create donor networks, slow to form think tanks, slow to build coalitions of moderate legislators. But suddenly there’s a flurry of activity between the extremes.

For example, Bill Kristol and Bill Galston have worked in the White Houses of different parties and had voted for the opposite presidential candidates in every election for four decades. But Donald Trump has reminded them how much they agree on the fundamentals.

The two Bills have now issued a joint statement calling for “a New Center.” It’s a defense of the basic institutions and practices of our constitutional order, which now seem under assault. It’s an attempt to learn from the election results and craft a governing philosophy that people of different parties can rally around.

That’s in the realm of ideas. In the realm of organization there’s also a flurry of activity. David Burstein’s group, Run for America, is recruiting a new generation of political candidates.

The most active centrist organization, No Labels, began six years ago in opposition to polarized, cutthroat politics. The problem with the group back then was that there was no future to a political movement whose first name is “No.” You have to be for something.

But under the leadership of its undeterrable co-founder, Nancy Jacobson, No Labels has evolved. It created a package of reform ideas to make Congress and the executive branch work together. It created an active congressional caucus, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, which now has 80 members, divided roughly evenly between both parties.

It has been building grass-roots activities, which have so far engaged one million people. It created a “super PAC” so that members of Congress who vote as centrists can get some political protection. It recently published a policy playbook with 60 proposals to create jobs, reform the tax code, balance the budget and secure entitlement programs.

Going forward, moderates face four big challenges. First, deepen a positive national vision that is not merely a positioning between left and right. Second, elevate a new generation of political leaders so the movement is not just a retread of retired establishment types.

Third, build a mass movement of actual voters, not just financiers and think-tank johnnies. Fourth, have the courage to stand together as a swing legislative caucus, when the pressure from the party leaderships becomes intense.

It’s an uphill climb, but this is a fertile moment. The Trump/Sanders era is going to create new opposition blocs, filled with people who never thought they would be working together.

Moreover, the future of this country is not going to be found in protecting jobs that are long gone or in catering to the fears of aging whites. There is a raging need for a movement that embraces economic dynamism, global engagement and social support — that is part Milton Friedman on economic policy, Ronald Reagan on foreign policy and Franklin Roosevelt on welfare policy.

The new center will probably start as a legislative caucus with members of both parties. Where it goes from there is anybody’s guess.

He just can’t admit that his party foisted a megalomaniacal, narcissistic grifter on the nation.  Here’s “gemli” with a few words for Bobo:

“You’d think pundits would have realized by now that it’s impossible to predict anything in this New World Disorder. But David Brooks predicts that in the midst of unparalleled political chaos the lions will lay down with the lambs. The glare of near-nuclear presidential upheaval will really be the sun rising on a new day of across-the-aisle cooperation. New voices will emerge from the hellish Babel of contradictory policy statements.

It’s more likely that the policies coming from the Alt-White House will be just as confusing as they are now, with the “president” saying one thing about Romney for Secretary of State while his spokes-mantis Kellyanne Conway says the opposite.

There won’t be caucuses in Congress as much as carcasses, as the old dependable assaults on our freedom die, only to be replaced by new ones that will be a mystery to the conservative cliques of old.

At least we knew where we stood in the good old days of 10 minutes ago, when Congress was jam-packed with political cronies, gerrymandered hacks and economic frauds like Paul Ryan running the show. They were all about taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich. They won’t begin to fathom what new deals the megalomaniacal Narcissist in Chief may have made, possibly with foreign powers.

We thought it was an embarrassing end-around ploy when Congress invited Netanyahu to speak before them. Imagine their surprise when Putin shows up to give them a lecture on how power really works.”

Krugman, solo

November 28, 2016

In “Why Corruption Matters” Prof. Krugman says it’s not the money, it’s the incentives.  Here he is:

Remember all the news reports suggesting, without evidence, that the Clinton Foundation’s fund-raising created conflicts of interest? Well, now the man who benefited from all that innuendo is on his way to the White House. And he’s already giving us an object lesson in what real conflicts of interest look like, as authoritarian governments around the world shower favors on his business empire.

Of course, Donald Trump could be rejecting these favors and separating himself and his family from his hotels and so on. But he isn’t. In fact, he’s openly using his position to drum up business. And his early appointments suggest that he won’t be the only player using political power to build personal wealth. Self-dealing will be the norm throughout this administration. America has just entered an era of unprecedented corruption at the top.

The question you need to ask is why this matters. Hint: It’s not the money, it’s the incentives.

True, we could be talking about a lot of money — think billions, not millions, to Mr. Trump alone (which is why his promise not to take his salary is a sick joke). But America is a very rich country, whose government spends more than $4 trillion a year, so even large-scale looting amounts to rounding error. What’s important is not the money that sticks to the fingers of the inner circle, but what they do to get that money, and the bad policy that results.

Normally, policy reflects some combination of practicality — what works? — and ideology — what fits my preconceptions? And our usual complaint is that ideology all too often overrules the evidence.

But now we’re going to see a third factor powerfully at work: What policies can officials, very much including the man at the top, personally monetize? And the effect will be disastrous.

Let’s start relatively small, with the choice of Betsy DeVos as education secretary. Ms. DeVos has some obvious affinities with Mr. Trump: Her husband is an heir to the fortune created by Amway, a company that has been accused of being a fraudulent scheme and, in 2011, paid $150 million to settle a class-action suit. But what’s really striking is her signature issue, school vouchers, in which parents are given money rather than having their children receive a public education.

At this point there’s a lot of evidence on how well school vouchers actually work, and it’s basically damning. For example, Louisiana’s extensive voucher plan unambiguously reduced student achievement. But voucher advocates won’t take no for an answer. Part of this is ideology, but it’s also true that vouchers might eventually find their way to for-profit educational institutions.

And the track record of for-profit education is truly terrible; the Obama administration has been cracking down on the scams that infest the industry. But things will be different now: For-profit education stocks soared after the election. Two, three, many Trump Universities!

Moving on, I’ve already written about the Trump infrastructure plan, which for no obvious reason involves widespread privatization of public assets. No obvious reason, that is, except the huge opportunities for cronyism and profiteering that would be opened up.

But what’s truly scary is the potential impact of corruption on foreign policy. Again, foreign governments are already trying to buy influence by adding to Mr. Trump’s personal wealth, and he is welcoming their efforts.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is illegal, in fact unconstitutional, a clear violation of the emoluments clause. But who’s going to enforce the Constitution? Republicans in Congress? Don’t be silly.

Destruction of democratic norms aside, however, think about the tilt this de facto bribery will give to U.S. policy. What kind of regime can buy influence by enriching the president and his friends? The answer is, only a government that doesn’t adhere to the rule of law.

Think about it: Could Britain or Canada curry favor with the incoming administration by waiving regulations to promote Trump golf courses or directing business to Trump hotels? No — those nations have free presses, independent courts, and rules designed to prevent exactly that kind of improper behavior. On the other hand, someplace like Vladimir Putin’s Russia can easily funnel vast sums to the man at the top in return for, say, the withdrawal of security guarantees for the Baltic States.

One would like to hope that national security officials are explaining to Mr. Trump just how destructive it would be to let business considerations drive foreign policy. But reports say that Mr. Trump has barely met with those officials, refusing to get the briefings that are normal for a president-elect.

So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be? The best guess is, worse than you can possibly imagine.

Brooks and Krugman

November 25, 2016

Today is full of questions.  In “Does Decision Making Matter?” Bobo has a question:  Why are you interested in the things that interest you?  Prof. Krugman also has a question in “The Populism Perplex:”  What does the white working class want?  Here’s Bobo:

Danny Kahneman grew up Jewish in occupied France during World War II. Once in Paris, after curfew, he was nearly captured by an SS officer. His family traveled from town to town through rural France, hiding and hoping people wouldn’t recognize them as Jews. As Michael Lewis writes in his forthcoming book, “The Undoing Project,” Kahneman survived the Holocaust by keeping himself apart.

The family moved to Jerusalem. The army assigned him to a psychological evaluation unit and Kahneman became a psychologist.

Amos Twersky was born in Israel, to a mother who ignored him for long periods so she could serve the nation. He became a paratrooper in the war of 1956, and received one of the nation’s highest awards for bravery after he rescued a man who’d fainted on a torpedo just before it exploded.

Twersky was idiosyncratic. “Amos thought people paid an enormous price to avoid mild embarrassment, and he himself decided early on it was not worth it,” a friend told Lewis.

If he felt like going for a run, he stripped off his pants and went in his underpants. If a social situation bored him, he left. Twersky wasn’t sure how he drifted into psychology. “It’s hard to know how people select a course in life,” he once said. “The big choices we make are practically random.”

Kahneman and Twersky began to work together. They would lock themselves together and talk and laugh, year after year. If they were at a party, they would go off and talk to each other. “When they sat down to write, they nearly merged, physically, into a single form,” Lewis writes, hunched over a single typewriter.

“Their relationship was more intense than a marriage,” Twersky’s wife recalled. When they wrote a paper together they lost all track of who had contributed what. They scrambled for research topics that gave them an excuse to be together, and completed each other’s sentences.

“The way the creative process works is that you first say something and later, sometimes years later, you understand what you said,” Kahneman recalled. “And in our case it was foreshortened. I would say something and Amos understood it. It still gives me goose bumps.”

It was a mystical alchemy that revolutionized how we think about ourselves. Kahneman and Twersky are like a lot of the characters who appear in Michael Lewis’s books, like “Moneyball” and “The Big Short.” They are intellectual renegades who are fervently, almost obsessively, determined to see reality clearly, no matter how ferocious the resistance from everybody else.

While most economics models assumed people were basically rational, Kahneman and Twersky demonstrated that human decision-making is biased in systematic, predictable ways. Many of the biases they described have now become famous — loss aversion, endowment effect, hindsight bias, the anchoring effect, and were described in Kahneman’s brilliant book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” They are true giants who have revolutionized how we think about decision-making. Lewis makes academic life seem gripping, which believe it or not, is not easy to do.

My big question is: How is the world they describe reflected in their own lives? Kahneman and Twersky write about the kind of decisions that you might call casino decisions — in which people confront various probabilities and try to calculate which course will be best.

But over the course of their lives Kahneman and Twersky don’t seem to have actually made many big decisions. The major trajectories of their lives were determined by historical events, random coincidences, their own psychological needs and irresistible impulsions. In the course of the book there’s only one big formal decision point — when Twersky decides to move to the U.S.

Their lives weren’t so much shaped by decisions as by rapture. They were held rapt by each other’s minds. They were fervently engaged by the puzzles before them. They succeeded not because they were master decision-makers but because of their capacity for zealous engagement. They followed their interests step by step.

And this is my problem with the cognitive sciences and the advice world generally. It’s built on the premise that we are chess masters who make decisions, for good or ill. But when it comes to the really major things we mostly follow our noses. What seems interesting, beautiful, curious and addicting?

Have you ever known anybody to turn away from anything they found compulsively engaging?

We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity. Why are you interested in the things you are interested in? Why are some people zealously seized, manically attentive and compulsively engaged?

Now that we know a bit more about decision-making, maybe the next frontier is desire. Maybe the next Kahneman and Twersky will help us understand what explains, fires and orders our loves.

Ahhh…  It would appear that Bobo is still in the throes of his midlife crisis.  It hasn’t been pretty…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million, and she would probably be president-elect if the director of the F.B.I. hadn’t laid such a heavy thumb on the scales, just days before the election. But it shouldn’t even have been close; what put Donald Trump in striking distance was overwhelming support from whites without college degrees. So what can Democrats do to win back at least some of those voters?

Recently Bernie Sanders offered an answer: Democrats should “go beyond identity politics.” What’s needed, he said, are candidates who understand that working-class incomes are down, who will “stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

But is there any reason to believe that this would work? Let me offer some reasons for doubt.

First, a general point: Any claim that changed policy positions will win elections assumes that the public will hear about those positions. How is that supposed to happen, when most of the news media simply refuse to cover policy substance? Remember, over the course of the 2016 campaign, the three network news shows devoted a total of 35 minutes combined to policy issues — all policy issues. Meanwhile, they devoted 125 minutes to Mrs. Clinton’s emails.

Beyond this, the fact is that Democrats have already been pursuing policies that are much better for the white working class than anything the other party has to offer. Yet this has brought no political reward.

Consider eastern Kentucky, a very white area which has benefited enormously from Obama-era initiatives. Take, in particular, the case of Clay County, which the Times declared a few years ago to be the hardest place in America to live. It’s still very hard, but at least most of its residents now have health insurance: Independent estimates say that the uninsured rate fell from 27 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in 2016. That’s the effect of the Affordable Care Act, which Mrs. Clinton promised to preserve and extend but Mr. Trump promised to kill.

Mr. Trump received 87 percent of Clay County’s vote.

Now, you might say that health insurance is one thing, but what people want are good jobs. Eastern Kentucky used to be coal country, and Mr. Trump, unlike Mrs. Clinton, promised to bring the coal jobs back. (So much for the idea that Democrats need a candidate who will stand up to the fossil fuels industry.) But it’s a nonsensical promise.

Where did Appalachia’s coal mining jobs go? They weren’t lost to unfair competition from China or Mexico. What happened instead was, first, a decades-long erosion as U.S. coal production shifted from underground mining to strip mining and mountaintop removal, which require many fewer workers: Coal employment peaked in 1979, fell rapidly during the Reagan years, and was down more than half by 2007. A further plunge came in recent years thanks to fracking. None of this is reversible.

Is the case of former coal country exceptional? Not really. Unlike the decline in coal, some of the long-term decline in manufacturing employment can be attributed to rising trade deficits, but even there it’s a fairly small fraction of the story. Nobody can credibly promise to bring the old jobs back; what you can promise — and Mrs. Clinton did — are things like guaranteed health care and higher minimum wages. But working-class whites overwhelmingly voted for politicians who promise to destroy those gains.

So what happened here? Part of the answer may be that Mr. Trump had no problems with telling lies about what he could accomplish. If so, there may be a backlash when the coal and manufacturing jobs don’t come back, while health insurance disappears.

But maybe not. Maybe a Trump administration can keep its supporters on board, not by improving their lives, but by feeding their sense of resentment.

For let’s be serious here: You can’t explain the votes of places like Clay County as a response to disagreements about trade policy. The only way to make sense of what happened is to see the vote as an expression of, well, identity politics — some combination of white resentment at what voters see as favoritism toward nonwhites (even though it isn’t) and anger on the part of the less educated at liberal elites whom they imagine look down on them.

To be honest, I don’t fully understand this resentment. In particular, I don’t know why imagined liberal disdain inspires so much more anger than the very real disdain of conservatives who see the poverty of places like eastern Kentucky as a sign of the personal and moral inadequacy of their residents.

One thing is clear, however: Democrats have to figure out why the white working class just voted overwhelmingly against its own economic interests, not pretend that a bit more populism would solve the problem.

Blow and Collins

November 24, 2016

In “No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along” Mr. Blow says he doesn’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid.  Ms. Collins, in “Carving Donald Trump,” says pass the stuffing and wave the olive branch.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump schlepped across town on Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

As I read the transcript and then listened to the audio, the slime factor was overwhelming.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.

You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushroomsin a marsh.

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes.

I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I’m thankful that I have the endurance and can assume a posture that will never allow what you represent to ever be seen as everyday and ordinary.

No, Mr. Trump, we will not all just get along. For as long as a threat to the state is the head of state, all citizens of good faith and national fidelity — and certainly this columnist — have an absolute obligation to meet you and your agenda with resistance at every turn.

I know this in my bones, and for that I am thankful.

Amen, and thank you Mr. Blow.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

On Thanksgiving, Americans sat down to dinner, looked at the big turkey and thought about Donald Trump.

O.K., that was totally the wrong attitude. We’re supposed to be having a reset. The president-elect has been going out of his way to build bridges. He came to The Times this week for a long conversation, during which he was extremely amiable. He blasted the alt-right twits who celebrated his victory with Nazi salutes. (“Of course I condemn. I disavow and condemn.”) He had nothing but praise for Barack Obama (“I really liked him a lot.”) He has no desire to see Hillary Clinton prosecuted. (“She went through a lot. And suffered greatly in many different ways.”)

Policywise, he was still the guy who’s not all that into position papers. In discussing climate change alone, Trump use the phrase “open mind” seven times. This is one thing you can count on. We haven’t had a mind so open in the White House since Warren Harding.

Trump certainly hasn’t been giving many hints about what he’s actually going to do. But the real, and very important, message from his outreach was to remind the nation that he’s not crazy.

Trump not crazy! The word spread throughout the land. The stock market soared. While it’s true that the country has generally expected a little more from an incoming president, this election year has always been the story of a very low bar.

Look at his appointments. In another year, people might question whether Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina would be the right choice for United Nations ambassador, since she has virtually no experience whatsoever in foreign affairs. However, given the fact that last week Haley appeared to be a finalist for secretary of state, the U.N. seems like an eminently sensible assignment. Plus, once again we are relieved it’s not Rudy Giuliani.

Ironically, Trump, who ran as the big-change guy, is spending his first days as president-elect trying to assure people the changes won’t be too large. The Mexican wall is going to be a mixture of wall and fences — think of it as the Great Wence. The war on illegal immigrants is going to be all about deporting criminals, which is exactly what the Obama administration has been doing for years.

The most astonishing moment in Trump’s visit to The Times came when the president-elect announced that waterboarding suspected terrorists was “not going to make the kind of a difference that maybe a lot of people think.” Those people would include all the folks who went to Trump rallies and cheered when the candidate said things like: “Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. … It works.”

“If it’s so important to the American people, I would go for it,” said the man who spent much of the last year trying to make it important. But, he said, he’d talked to Gen. James Mattis — the odds-on bet for secretary of defense — and found that Mattis thought waterboarding was pretty useless and much less effective than trying to win over a prisoner with cigarettes and beer.

Now, you can look at this two ways. One is that we have a president-elect who never bothered to talk with any experts about one of his major campaign themes. The other is that he’s growing into the job.

Let’s take the second. Sure, we’ll probably be disappointed by Valentine’s Day, but it could get us through the holidays.

I’ve been trying to think of a way to set an example — to come up with an olive branch that doesn’t go overboard. Some little thing to smooth the edges before we start fighting about the Supreme Court and health care.

Over the past couple of years I have noted on several occasions that Donald Trump once sent me a letter saying I had the face of a dog. This was when he took exception to my description of him as a “thousandaire.”

I’ve decided I will refrain from mentioning the incident again until he does something really, really terrible as president. In the name of accuracy, however, I have to correct the record. I dug out Trump’s missive the other day and discovered he did not actually say I looked like a dog. He said I was “a dog and a liar” with the face of a pig.

Hard to believe I got that wrong. The moral is that you should always consult the primary source.

So off we go. Fiscal conservatives are terrified that Trump will spend a ton of money on construction projects and refuse to cut entitlements. Murmurs of the dread term “Rockefeller Republican” are probably wafting at Paul Ryan’s holiday table. Perhaps liberals can take comfort in the fact that the other side is just as freaked out as they are.

Next year at this time, we’ll be watching President Trump pardon the Thanksgiving turkeys. Unless he reverts and winds up ordering the turkeys tortured.

I wonder if he can get his hands on that machine that was behind Sarah Palin a few years ago…

Friedman and Bruni

November 23, 2016

Oh, FFS…  The Moustache of Wisdom is the latest to fall for Mein Fubar’s “I’m not so bad” act.  In “At Lunch, Donald Trump Gives Critics Hope” he tells us that the campaign is over, but the struggle for Trump’s soul has just begun.  Tommy, the use of the word “soul” assumes facts not in evidence.  Mr. Bruni may have a slightly clearer vision of what’s going on.  In “Donald Trump’s Demand for Love” he says his meeting with The Times was a marvel of boasting and bending.  Here’s TMOW:

Well, that was interesting … Donald Trump came to lunch at The New York Times. You can find all the highlights on the news pages, but since I had the opportunity to be included, let me offer a few impressions of my first close encounter with Trump since he declared for the presidency.

The most important was that on several key issues — like climate change and torture — where he adopted extreme positions during his campaign to galvanize his base, he went out of his way to make clear he was rethinking them. How far? I don’t know. But stay tuned, especially on climate.

There are many decisions that President-elect Trump can and will make during the next four years. Many of them could be reversible by his successor. But there is one decision he can make that could have truly irreversible implications, and that is to abandon America’s commitment to phasing out coal, phasing in more clean energy systems and leading the world to curb CO2 emissions before they reach a level that produces a cycle of wildly unpredictable climate disruptions.

When asked where he stood on that climate change issue — which in the past he dismissed as a hoax — and last December’s U.S.-led Paris emissions-reduction accord, the president-elect did not hesitate for a second: “I’m looking at it very closely. … I have an open mind to it. We’re going to look very carefully. … You can make lots of cases for different views. … I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal-clean water is vitally important.”

Do you think climate change is caused by human activity?

“I think there is some connectivity,” Trump answered. It is not clear “how much,” and what he will do about it “depends on how much it’s going to cost our companies.” Trump said he would study the issue “very hard” and hinted that if, after study, he was to moderate his views, his voice would be influential with climate skeptics.

On the question of whether the U.S. military should use waterboarding and other forms of torture to break suspected terrorists — a position he advocated frequently during the campaign to great applause — Trump bluntly stated that he had changed his mind after talking with James N. Mattis, the retired Marine Corps general, who headed the United States Central Command.

Trump said Mattis told him of torture: “I’ve never found it to be useful.” (Many in the military and the C.I.A. have long held this view.)

He quoted Mattis as saying, “Give me a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers and I always do better” than anyone using torture. Concluded Trump, “I was very impressed by that answer.”

Speaking of the Middle East, Trump said unprompted: “I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” adding, “I have reason to believe I can do that.” And he hinted that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, could be his special envoy and “he’d be very good at it. … He knows the region.” (Wow, watching Trump try to forge a deal between Bibi Netanyahu and the Palestinians would be pay-per-view!)

The one area where I think Trump is going to have the hardest time delivering on his campaign promises is to create “millions” of good-paying jobs by incentivizing and pressuring American companies to manufacture more in the U.S. He still talks about America as a manufacturing wasteland when, in fact, manufacturing remains the largest sector of the U.S. economy but employs far fewer workers.

As the management consultant Warren Bennis famously observed: “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.”

Bottom line: The campaign is over, but the struggle for Donald Trump’s soul has just begun. Trump clearly learns by talking to people, not reading. Because so few thought he would win, many of those who gathered around him and had his ear were extreme characters.

But now that he has been elected president he is exposing himself to, and hearing from, a much wider net of people. He mentioned that he had had telephone conversations with Bill Gates and with Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook. And he stressed repeatedly that he wants to succeed: “I am doing this to do a good job.”

To do that he needs to moderate many views and learn from a much wider network of people. For those of us who opposed Trump’s election, it is not time to let down our guard and stop drawing redlines where necessary. But for moderate Republicans and Democratic business leaders, like a Bill Gates, who can gain his ear and respect, and who have made big investments in clean energy, Trump may be — may be — persuadable on some key issues. They need to dive in now and try to pull him toward the center.

For a meeting between the newsmaker and this news organization that has covered him without fear or favor, the lunch was fairly relaxed, but not without some jousting. Asked if he read The New York Times, Trump said: “I do read it. Unfortunately. I would live about 20 years longer if I didn’t.”

Well, that was just pitiful.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

I had just shaken the president-elect’s normal-size hand and he was moving on to the next person when he wheeled around, took a half step back, touched my arm and looked me in the eye anew.

“I’m going to get you to write some good stuff about me,” Donald Trump said.

It’s entirely possible. I keep an open mind. But I’m decided on this much: Winning the most powerful office in the world did nothing to diminish his epic ache for adoration or outsize need to tell everyone how much he deserves it.

He sat down for more than an hour with about two dozen of us at The Times on Tuesday afternoon, and what subject do you suppose he spent his first eight minutes on? When the floor was his, to use as he pleased?

The incredibleness of his win two weeks ago.

“A great victory,” he said as he went back, unbidden, through all the Trump-affirming highlights: the size of his crowds; the screens and loudspeakers for the overflow; the enthusiasm gap between his rallies and poor Hillary Clinton’s. It’s a song I’ve heard so often I could sing it in my sleep.

He volunteered that until he came along, Republican presidential candidates had been foiled in both Michigan and Pennsylvania for “38 years or something.” The “something” apparently covered the actual figure, 28.

He said that he got close to 15 percent of African-Americans’ votes, though exit polls suggest it was just 8 percent, and he asserted that their modest turnout was in fact a huge compliment to him, demonstrating that “they liked what I was saying” and thus didn’t bother to show up for Clinton.

He mentioned the popular vote before any of us could — to let us know that he would have won it if it had mattered and his strategy had been devised accordingly.

“The popular vote would have been a lot easier,” he said, making clear that his Electoral College triumph was the truly remarkable one.

For Trump, bragging is like breathing: continuous, spontaneous. He wants nothing more than for his audience to be impressed.

And when his audience is a group of people, like us, who haven’t clapped the way he’d like?

He sands down his edges. Modulates his voice. Bends.

That was perhaps the most interesting part of the meeting, the one that makes his presidency such a question mark. Will he tilt in whatever direction, and toward whichever constituency, is the surest source of applause? Is our best hope for the best Trump to be so fantastically adulatory when he’s reasonable that he’s motivated to stay on that course, lest the adulation wane?

The Trump who visited The Times was purged of any zeal to investigate Clinton’s emails or the Clinton Foundation, willing to hear out the scientists on global warming, skeptical of waterboarding and unhesitant to disavow white nationalists. He never mentioned the border wall.

He more or less told us to disregard all the huffing and puffing he’d done about curtailing press freedoms, and he looked forward to another meeting — a year from now — when we’d all reunite in a spirit of newfound amity to celebrate his administration’s uncontroversial accomplishments. I could see the big group hug. I could hear “Kumbaya.”

And though one of his splenetic tweets just seven hours before our meeting had again branded The Times a “failing” news organization, he said to our faces that we weren’t just a “great, great American jewel” but a “world jewel.”

There was a lesson here about his desire to be approved of and his hunger to be loved. There was another about the shockingly unformed, pliable nature of the clay that is our 70-year-old president-elect.

His reservations about waterboarding, he said, arose from a conversation he’d just had with James Mattis, a retired Marine general under consideration for secretary of defense. During that talk Mattis had bluntly questioned waterboarding’s effectiveness — and so, now, did Trump.

It was as if he’d never really thought through the issue during that endless campaign, and it suggested that the most influential voice in Trumplandia is the last one he happened to listen to. That’s worrying, because some of the voices he has thus far put closest to him — those of Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions — aren’t the most constructive, restrained, unifying ones.

And to my eyes and ears, Trump still has grandiose intentions in lieu of concrete plans. Toward the end of our meeting, he went so far as to prophesy that he might be able to accomplish what his predecessors couldn’t and broker a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

That’d definitely do the trick. We’d all be writing nothing but very, very good stuff about him then.

Bobo, solo

November 22, 2016

So now Bobo considers himself a “critic” of Mein Fubar.  In “Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening” he babbles that we should take a break and see what’s going on.  Oh, trust me Bobo — we KNOW what’s going on.  “Gemli” from Boston will respond.  Here, God above help us, is Bobo:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best imaginable Trump voter. This is the Trump supporter who wasn’t motivated by racism or bigotry. This is the one who cringed every time Donald Trump did something cruel, vulgar or misogynistic.

But this voter needed somebody to change the systems that are failing her. She needed somebody to change the public school system that serves the suburban children of professors, journalists and lawyers but has left her kids under-skilled and underpaid. She needed some way to protect herself from the tech executives who give exciting speeches about disruption but don’t know anything about the people actually being disrupted.

She is one of those people whom Joan C. Williams writes about in The Harvard Business Review who admires rich people but disdains professionals — the teachers who condescend to her, the doctors who don’t make time for her, the activists whose definition of social justice never seems to include the suffering people like her experience.

This voter wants leaders tough enough to crack through the reigning dysfunction, and sure enough, Trump’s appointments so far represent the densest concentration of hyper-macho belligerence outside a drill sergeant retirement home.

This voter wants a philosophic change of course, and Trump offers that, too. The two party establishments are mired in their orthodoxies, but Trump and his appointees are embodiments of the nationalism espoused by Pat Buchanan, the most influential public intellectual in America today.

Buchanan’s organizing worldview is embodied in visceral form in the person of Steve Bannon.

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia,” Bannon said in his Hollywood Reporter interview. The new political movement, he said, is “everything related to jobs.”

He vowed to drive conservatives crazy with a gigantic spending program to create jobs. He vowed to use that money to create a new New Deal that will win over 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, creating a neo-Jacksonian majority that will govern for 50 years.

It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see why some good people might be willing to tolerate Trump and Bannon’s personalities in order to pursue it.

Thinking about this best voter has helped me take an emotional pause. Many of my fellow Trump critics are expressing outrage, depression, bewilderment or disgust. They’re marching or writing essays: Should we normalize Trump or fight the normalizers?

It all seems so useless during this transition moment. It’s all a series of narcissistic displays and discussions about our own emotional states.

It seems like the first thing to do is really learn what this election is teaching us. Second, this seems like a moment for some low-passion wonkery. It’s stupid to react to every Trump tweet outrage with your own predictable howls. It’s silly to treat politics and governance purely on cultural grounds, as a high school popularity contest, where my sort of people denigrates your sort of people.

We’ve arrived at the moment of actual governing. We’ve arrived at the moment when Trump has to turn his vague notions into concrete proposals.

Trump promised to rip up the Iran deal, but he seems to be realizing there are six other signatories and we’ve lost leverage with the Iranians because we already gave them back their money.

Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, but how do you do that when it has already been woven into the fabric of every health care system in America?

Whether it’s reforming immigration or trade policy, his governing challenge is going to be astoundingly hard and complicated. Surely this is not the moment to get swept up in our own moral superiority, but rather to understand the specificity of the proposals he comes up with and to offer concrete amendments and alternatives to address the same problems.

Finally, surely a little universal humility is in order. Orthodox Republicans spent the last 30 years talking grandly about entrepreneurialism while the social fabric around their core voters disintegrated. Maybe a little government action would have helped?

The Democratic Party is losing badly on the local, state and national levels. If you were a football team you’d be 2-8. Maybe you can do better than responding with the sentiment: Sadly, the country isn’t good enough for us.

Those of us in the opinion class have been complaining that Trump voters are post-truth, that they don’t have a respect for expertise. Well, the experts created a school system that doesn’t produce skilled graduates. The experts designed Obamacare exchanges that are failing. Maybe those of us in the professional class need to win back some credibility the old-fashioned way, with effective reform.

There will be plenty of time to be disgusted with Trump’s bigotry, narcissism and incompetence. It’s tempting to get so caught up in his outrage du jour that you never have to do any self-examination. But let’s be honest: It wouldn’t kill us Trump critics to take a break from our never-ending umbrage to engage in a little listening.

Krugman’s blog, 11/19/16

November 21, 2016

There was one post on Saturday, “Infrastructure Build or Privatization Scam?”:

Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed. So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is?

Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

You should immediately ask three questions about all of this.

First, why involve private investors at all? It’s not as if the federal government is having any trouble raising money — in fact, a large part of the justification for infrastructure investment is precisely that the government can borrow so cheaply. Why do we need private equity at all?

One answer might be that this way you avoid incurring additional public debt. But that’s just accounting confusion. Imagine that you’re building a toll road. If the government builds it, it ends up paying interest but gets the future revenue from the tolls. If it turns the project over to private investors, it avoids the interest cost — but also loses the future toll revenue. The government’s future cash flow is no better than it would have been if it borrowed directly, and worse if it strikes a bad deal, say because the investors have political connections.

Second, how is this kind of scheme supposed to finance investment that doesn’t produce a revenue stream? Toll roads are not the main thing we need right now; what about sewage systems, making up for deferred maintenance, and so on? You could bring in private investors by guaranteeing them future government money — say, paying rent in perpetuity for the use of a water system built by a private consortium. But this, even more than having someone else collect tolls, would simply be government borrowing through the back door — with much less transparency, and hence greater opportunities for giveaways to favored interests.

Third, how much of the investment thus financed would actually be investment that wouldn’t have taken place anyway? That is, how much “additionality” is there? Suppose that there’s a planned tunnel, which is clearly going to be built; but now it’s renamed the Trump Tunnel, the building and financing are carried out by private firms, and the future tolls and/or rent paid by the government go to those private interests. In that case we haven’t promoted investment at all, we’ve just in effect privatized a public asset — and given the buyers 82 percent of the purchase price in the form of a tax credit.

Again, all of these questions could be avoided by doing things the straightforward way: if you think we should build more infrastructure, then build more infrastructure, and never mind the complicated private equity/tax credits stuff. You could try to come up with some justification for the complexity of the scheme, but one simple answer would be that it’s not about investment, it’s about ripping off taxpayers. Is that implausible, given who we’re talking about?

Blow and Krugman

November 21, 2016

In “Trump: Making America White Again” Mr. Blow says the president-elect aims for a country by and for white men.  Prof. Krugman, in “Build He Won’t,” tells us not to fall for the Trump infrastructure scam.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This may well be the beginning of the end: the early moments of a historical pivot point, when the slide of the republic into something untoward and unrecognizable still feels like a small collection of poor judgments and reversible decisions, rather than the forward edge of an enormous menace inching its way forward and grinding up that which we held dear and foolishly thought, as lovers do, would ever endure.

So many of President-elect Donald Trump’s decisions herald a tomorrow that is bleak for anyone who held hope that he could be a different, better man than the one who campaigned (I was not among that cohort), or those who simply assumed that the gravity of the office he is to assume would ground him.

Hard-line Trumpism isn’t softening; it’s being cemented.

Increasingly, as he picks his cabinet from among his fawning loyalists, it is becoming clear that by “Make America Great Again,” he actually meant some version of “Make America a White, Racist, Misogynistic Patriarchy Again.” It would be hard to send a clearer message to women and minorities that this administration will be hostile to their interests than the cabinet he is assembling.

He has promoted Stephen Bannon, an alt-right, white nationalist cheerleader and sympathizer, to chief White House strategist.

Senator Bernie Sanders responded to the Bannon announcement with a blistering statement:

“The appointment by President-elect Trump of a racist individual like Mr. Bannon to a position of authority is totally unacceptable. In a democratic society we can disagree all we want over issues, but racism and bigotry cannot be part of any public policy. The appointment of Mr. Bannon by Mr. Trump must be rescinded.”

But of course, Trump had no intention of rescinding the appointment. Indeed, he had more controversial appointments to come.

He has chosen the extreme anti-Islam hyperbolist Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who also happens to be a stop-and-frisk apologist and has tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” — as his national security adviser.

As The New York Times reported Thursday:

“General Flynn, for instance, has said that Shariah, or Islamic law, is spreading in the United States. (It is not.) His dubious assertions are so common that when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: They called them ‘Flynn facts.’”

In October, Flynn tweeted:

“Follow Mike @Cernovich He has a terrific book, Gorilla Mindset. Well worth the read. @realDonaldTrump will win on 8 NOV!!!”

The New Yorker dubbed Mike Cernovich “the meme mastermind of the alt-right” in a lengthy profile.

The magazine pointed out:

“On his blog, Cernovich developed a theory of white-male identity politics: men were oppressed by feminism, and political correctness prevented the discussion of obvious truths, such as the criminal proclivities of certain ethnic groups.”

Then there was the choice of Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. In 1986 Sessions famously became only the second nominee in 48 years to be rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee, due to racist comments and behavior.

When confronted by the committee about remarks he was accused of making about the N.A.A.C.P. and the A.C.L.U., Sessions responded:

“I’m often loose with my tongue. I may have said something about the N.A.A.C.P. being un-American or Communist, but I meant no harm by it.”

But not all of Sessions’s issues regarding minorities have a 30-year vintage.

In response to the attorney general announcement, the Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement that read in part:

“But we cannot support his nomination to be the country’s next attorney general. Senator Sessions not only has been a leading opponent of sensible, comprehensive immigration reform, he has associated with anti-immigrant groups we consider to be deeply racist, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Security Policy.”

Indeed, FAIR was quick to congratulate Sessions on his nomination Friday, saying in a statement: “It’s hard to imagine a better pick for the attorney general position than Senator Jeff Sessions”; the group called on Sessions to rid the country of sanctuary cities.

The S.P.L.C. has written about FAIR, saying:

“FAIR leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements. Its advertisements have been rejected because of racist content. FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has expressed his wish that America remain a majority-white population: a goal to be achieved, presumably, by limiting the number of nonwhites who enter the country.”

Trump is making a statement that it would behoove America to heed: The America he envisions, and is now actively constructing from his perch of power, is not an inclusive America. It is a society driven by a racial Orwellianism that seeks to defend, elevate and enshrine the primacy of white men and is hostile to all “others.”

That orange glow emanating from the man is the sun setting on America’s progress, however slow and halting, on race and gender inclusion and equity.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, is a white supremacist and purveyor of fake news. But the other day, in an interview with, um, The Hollywood Reporter, he sounded for a minute like a progressive economist. “I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” he declared. “With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything.”

So is public investment an area in which progressives and the incoming Trump administration can find common ground? Some people, including Bernie Sanders, seem to think so.

But remember that we’re dealing with a president-elect whose business career is one long trail of broken promises and outright scams — someone who just paid $25 million to settle fraud charges against his “university.” Given that history, you always have to ask whether he’s offering something real or simply engaged in another con job. In fact, you should probably assume that it’s a scam until proven otherwise.

And we already know enough about his infrastructure plan to suggest, strongly, that it’s basically fraudulent, that it would enrich a few well-connected people at taxpayers’ expense while doing very little to cure our investment shortfall. Progressives should not associate themselves with this exercise in crony capitalism.

To understand what’s going on, it may be helpful to start with what we should be doing. The federal government can indeed borrow very cheaply; meanwhile, we really need to spend money on everything from sewage treatment to transit. The indicated course of action, then, is simple: borrow at those low, low rates, and use the funds raised to fix what needs fixing.

But that’s not what the Trump team is proposing. Instead, it’s calling for huge tax credits: billions of dollars in checks written to private companies that invest in approved projects, which they would end up owning. For example, imagine a private consortium building a toll road for $1 billion. Under the Trump plan, the consortium might borrow $800 billion while putting up $200 million in equity — but it would get a tax credit of 82 percent of that sum, so that its actual outlays would only be $36 million. And any future revenue from tolls would go to the people who put up that $36 million.

There are three questions you should immediately ask.

First, why do it this way? Why not just have the government do the spending, the way it did when, for example, we built the Interstate Highway System? It’s not as if the feds are having trouble borrowing. And while involving private investors may create less upfront government debt than a more straightforward scheme, the eventual burden on taxpayers will be every bit as high if not higher.

Second, how is this scheme supposed to deal with infrastructure needs that can’t be turned into profit centers? Our top priorities should include things like repairing levees and cleaning up hazardous waste; where’s the revenue stream? Maybe the government can promise to pay fees in perpetuity, in effect “renting” the repaired levee or waterworks — but that makes it even clearer that we’re basically engaged in a gratuitous handout to select investors.

Third, what reason do we have to believe that this scheme will generate new investment, as opposed to repackaging things that would have happened anyway? For example, many cities will have to replace their water systems in the years ahead, one way or another; if that replacement takes place under the Trump scheme rather than through ordinary government investment, we haven’t built additional infrastructure, we’ve just privatized what would have been public assets — and the people acquiring those assets will have paid just 18 cents on the dollar, with taxpayers picking up the rest of the tab.

Again, all of this is unnecessary. If you want to build infrastructure, build infrastructure. It’s hard to see any reason for a roundabout, indirect method that would offer a few people extremely sweet deals, and would therefore provide both the means and the motive for large-scale corruption. Or maybe I should say, it’s hard to see any reason for this scheme unless the inevitable corruption is a feature, not a bug.

Now, the Trump people could make all my suspicions look foolish by scrapping the private-investor, tax credits aspect of their proposal and offering a straightforward program of public investment. And if they were to do that, progressives should indeed work with them on that issue.

But it’s not going to happen. Cronyism and self-dealing are going to be the central theme of this administration — in fact, Mr. Trump is already meeting with foreigners to promote his business interests. And people who value their own reputations should take care to avoid any kind of association with the scams ahead.

Krugman’s blog, 11/18/16

November 19, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “The Sorry and the Pity:”

A lot of people in politics and the media are scrambling to normalize what just happened to us, saying that it will all be OK and we can work with Trump. No, it won’t, and no, we can’t. The next occupant of the White House will be a pathological liar with a loose grip on reality; he is already surrounding himself with racists, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists; his administration will be the most corrupt in America history.

How did this happen? There were multiple causes, but you just can’t ignore the reality that key institutions and their leaders utterly failed. Every news organization that decided, for the sake of ratings, to ignore policy and barely cover Trump scandals while obsessing over Clinton emails, every reporter who, for whatever reason — often sheer pettiness — played up Wikileaks nonsense and talked about how various Clinton stuff “raised questions” and “cast shadows” is complicit in this disaster. And then there’s the FBI: it’s quite reasonable to argue that James Comey, whether it was careerism, cowardice, or something worse, tipped the scales and may have doomed the world.

No, I’m not giving up hope. Maybe, just maybe, the sheer awfulness of what’s happening will sink in. Maybe the backlash will be big enough to constrain Trump from destroying democracy in the next few months, and/or sweep his gang from power in the next few years. But if that’s going to happen, enough people will have to be true patriots, which means taking a stand.

And anyone who doesn’t — who plays along and plays it safe — is betraying America, and mankind.

The New York Times is pussy footing around like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  It’s disgusting, and the editorial staff should be ashamed.