Krugman’s blog, 4/14/17

April 17, 2017

There was one post on Friday, “In Praise Of Nursing:”

For some reason I’m suddenly getting a lot of mail about a sloppy and insensitive thing I did in passing in a blog post a while back. I was writing about what kind of work would survive digital technology, and described nursing among other things as “menial” work. What’s odd is that I have never imagined that; I don’t remember what I was thinking, but I may even have meant to say “manual” (which is also not right, however, since there’s a lot more than manual skill involved).

Anyway, apologies to nurses: If I insulted them, even inadvertently, that was badly done. I’m well aware how much training goes into their profession, and also just how hard it is — I would be terrified to deal, even once, with what they deal with every day. I won’t make that mistake again.

Blow and Krugman

April 17, 2017

In “100 Days of Horror” Mr. Blow says access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by Trump.  Prof. Krugman asks “Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?” and addresses economic pain, beyond coal and manufacturing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

With Donald Trump’s 100th day in office fast approaching, White House staffers are reportedly trying desperately to “rebrand” the colossal failure of the first 100 days as some kind of success.

Trump’s legislative agenda has been stymied. The drip, drip, drip of negative news about connections between campaign associates and Russia — and Russia’s efforts to impact our election — continues unabated. He seems to have no real strategy for governance other than pouting and gloating. His advisers are at each other’s throats. And the public has soured on him to a historic degree.

His failures so far, I suppose, should bring resisters like me some modicum of joy, but I must confess that they don’t. Or, more precisely, if they do, that joy is outweighed by the rolling litany of daily horrors that Trump has inflicted.

The horrors are both consuming and exhausting. For me at this point they center on an erosion of equality. This by no means downplays Trump’s incessant lying, the outrage of him draining the Treasury for his personal junkets, or his disturbing turn toward war. But somewhat below the radar, or at least with less fanfare, our access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by a man who lied on the campaign trail promising to promote them.

As a candidate, Trump blasted Jeb Bush, who while answering a question about defunding Planned Parenthood suggested that the federal government had overfunded women’s health care.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump prattled to Mika Brzezinski: “The women’s health issue, which Jeb Bush so amazingly blew about four or five days ago when he said ‘no money going to women’s health issues’ or essentially that. With me, Mika, I would be the best for women, the best for women’s health issues.”

Well, last week that very same man quietly signed legislation “aimed at cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions,” according to The New York Times. As The Times explained, the bill would allow state and local governments to withhold “federal funding for family planning services related to contraception, sexually transmitted infections, fertility, pregnancy care, and breast and cervical cancer screening from qualified health providers — regardless of whether they also performed abortions.”

As a candidate, Trump claimed to be a better friend to the L.G.B.T. community than Hillary Clinton, tweeting of that community “I will fight for you,” and saying during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that transgender people should “use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate.”

As president, his administration rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender students in public schools that allowed them to use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity.

As a candidate, Trump disparagingly chided black voters with the question, “What the hell do you have to lose?” and issued a “New Deal for Black America” in which he promised: “We will apply the law fairly, equally and without prejudice. There will be only one set of rules — not a two-tiered system of justice.”

As president, his Justice Department has dropped its objection to a racially discriminatory Texas voter ID law. Just last week Time reported: “A judge ruled for a second time Monday that Texas’ strict voter ID law was intentionally crafted to discriminate against minorities, which follows another court finding evidence of racial gerrymandering in how Republican lawmakers drew the state’s election maps.”

This Justice Department has also “rescinded a six-month-old Obama administration directive that sought to curtail the government’s use of private prisons,” as reported by NBC News, and “ordered a sweeping review of federal agreements with dozens of law enforcement agencies, an examination that reflects President Trump’s emphasis on law and order and could lead to a retreat on consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide,” as The Times reported.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday that consent decrees “can reduce morale of the police officers.”

Furthermore, The Washington Post reported last week that Sessions had appointed Steven H. Cook to be one of his top lieutenants, noting: “Law enforcement officials say that Sessions and Cook are preparing a plan to prosecute more drug and gun cases and pursue mandatory minimum sentences. The two men are eager to bring back the national crime strategy of the 1980s and ’90s from the peak of the drug war, an approach that had fallen out of favor in recent years as minority communities grappled with the effects of mass incarceration.”

The clock is being turned back. Vulnerable populations are under relentless attack by this administration. This is a war, and that is not hyperbole or exaggeration. While folks are hoping that some Russia-related revelation will emerge from the darkness to bring this administration to a calamitous conclusion, the administration is busy rebuilding and reinforcing the architecture of oppression in plain sight.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

President Trump is still promising to bring back coal jobs. But the underlying reasons for coal employment’s decline — automation, falling electricity demand, cheap natural gas, technological progress in wind and solar — won’t go away.

Meanwhile, last week the Treasury Department officially (and correctly) declined to name China as a currency manipulator, making nonsense of everything Mr. Trump has said about reviving manufacturing.

So will the Trump administration ever do anything substantive to bring back mining and manufacturing jobs? Probably not.

But let me ask a different question: Why does public discussion of job loss focus so intensely on mining and manufacturing, while virtually ignoring the big declines in some service sectors?

Over the weekend The Times Magazine published a photographic essay on the decline of traditional retailers in the face of internet competition. The pictures, contrasting “zombie malls” largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for online sellers, were striking. The economic reality is pretty striking too.

Consider what has happened to department stores. Even as Mr. Trump was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and there, Macy’s announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000 workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.

Overall, department stores employ a third fewer people now than they did in 2001. That’s half a million traditional jobs gone — about eighteen times as many jobs as were lost in coal mining over the same period.

And retailing isn’t the only service industry that has been hit hard by changing technology. Another prime example is newspaper publishing, where employment has declined by 270,000, almost two-thirds of the work force, since 2000.

So why aren’t promises to save service jobs as much a staple of political posturing as promises to save mining and manufacturing jobs?

One answer might be that mines and factories sometimes act as anchors of local economies, so that their closing can devastate a community in a way shutting a retail outlet won’t. And there’s something to that argument.

But it’s not the whole truth. Closing a factory is just one way to undermine a local community. Competition from superstores and shopping malls also devastated many small-city downtowns; now many small-town malls are failing too. And we shouldn’t minimize the extent to which the long decline of small newspapers has eroded the sense of local identity.

A different, less creditable reason mining and manufacturing have become political footballs, while services haven’t, involves the need for villains. Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.

By contrast, it’s really hard to blame either liberals or foreigners for, say, the decline of Sears. (The chain’s asset-stripping, Ayn Rand-loving owner is another story, but one that probably doesn’t resonate in the heartland.)

Finally, it’s hard to escape the sense that manufacturing and especially mining get special consideration because, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, their workers are a lot more likely to be male and significantly whiter than the work force as a whole.

Anyway, whatever the reasons that political narratives tend to privilege some jobs and some industries over others, it’s a tendency we should fight. Laid-off retail workers and local reporters are just as much victims of economic change as laid-off coal miners.

But, you ask, what can we do to stop service-sector job cuts? Not much — but that’s also true for mining and manufacturing, as working-class Trump voters will soon learn. In an ever-changing economy, jobs are always being lost: 75,000 Americans are fired or laid off every working day. And sometimes whole sectors go away as tastes or technology change.

While we can’t stop job losses from happening, however, we can limit the human damage when they do happen. We can guarantee health care and adequate retirement income for all. We can provide aid to the newly unemployed. And we can act to keep the overall economy strong — which means doing things like investing in infrastructure and education, not cutting taxes on rich people and hoping the benefits trickle down.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic to miners and industrial workers. Yes, their jobs matter. But all jobs matter. And while we can’t ensure that any particular job endures, we can and should ensure that a decent life endures even when a job doesn’t.

Brooks and Krugman

April 14, 2017

Bobo is all up in arms over “The Cuomo College Fiasco.”  He snarls that New York’s “free” tuition program is a truly bad attempt at improving higher ed.  And “gemli” from Boston will explain what a putz Bobo is.  Prof. Krugman has a question:  “Can Trump Take Health Care Hostage?”  He says the president has adopted a bargaining tactic that’s both nasty and stupid.  Here’s Bobo:

Donald Trump sets the bar very high, but the award for the worst public policy idea of the year goes to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo presides over a state with a rich diversity of educational institutions. But he also presides over a state, like all states, where many students don’t complete college and where many are unprepared for the information economy. For example, fewer than half of the African-American and Hispanic students in New York public colleges graduate within six years.

Cuomo could have done many things to improve New York’s higher ed system. He could have poured all available money into the Tuition Assistance Program, which is directed at poorer students. He could have spent more to help students become academically ready for college, which is the biggest barrier to graduation. He could have done more to help students pay room and board expenses. He could have massively improved overstretched mental health services. He could have massively improved career counseling.

But in 2016 Bernie Sanders made a big splash on the campaign trail with a plan to make college “free.” So Cuomo proposed and on Wednesday signed legislation to make tuition free at New York public colleges for anybody coming from a family making no more than $100,000 a year, with the cap rising to $125,000 in 2019.

If he runs for president, this will be an outstanding talking point. Unfortunately, the law will hurt actual New Yorkers.

First, the law is regressive. It does nothing to help students from families earning less than $50,000 a year. Their tuition is already covered by other programs. But it does pay for tuition for New Yorkers who make double the state’s median income. The higher up the income scale you go, until the ceiling, the more you benefit.

Second, it doesn’t make a dent in reducing the nontuition fees, like living expenses, textbooks and travel, which for many students are far more onerous than tuition.

Third, it doesn’t cover students who don’t go to school full time and don’t complete in four years. In 2017 this is the vast, vast majority of all students, especially poorer students.

Fourth, it demotivates students. Research has shown that students who have to work to pay some college costs, even if only small expenses, are more spurred to work hard and graduate. As Northwestern researcher Chenny Ng put it in a Washington Post essay, “as the cost of attending college drops to zero, so does the perceived cost of dropping out.”

Fifth, Cuomo’s law threatens to destroy some of New York’s private colleges. Cuomo could have championed a Pell-like program that subsidizes attendance at any accredited school. Instead, he pays for tuition only at state schools.

This means that suddenly the state’s 150 private colleges have to compete with “free.” Many of these schools are already struggling to survive. If upper-middle-class students are drawn away to public colleges, private ones may close. That hurts the state’s educational diversity, it destroys jobs and it hurts the state.

These private colleges tend to have smaller classes, they tend to do a better job of graduating their students and they tend to spend heavily to subsidize poorer students.

Sixth, the law may widen the gap between rich and poor. When state schools are “free,” more people will apply. As more apply, selectivity will increase, as administrators chase higher U.S. News & World Report rankings. That will exclude students with lower credentials, who tend to be from more disadvantaged homes. Even Georgia’s successful Hope Scholarship program had this unintended consequence, widening the college attendance gap between white and black and rich and poor.

Seventh, over the long term the law could hurt the quality of New York’s state system. Right now those schools rely on tuition to help fund programs. If New York moves more toward a purely publicly funded model, it may suffer from the slow decay that has hurt many state systems. State budgets are perpetually challenged by rising entitlement spending. Education gets squeezed. The universities will try to claw back the private money with dorm fees, activities fees and other charges that don’t officially count as tuition, but still quality suffers.

Even in Germany, where a generous welfare state is valued, per-pupil spending has dropped by 10 percent since universities became free. Germany is an extremely successful country, but lecture classes are huge and the country’s universities are not generally ranked among the world’s best.

Finally, the law will hurt its recipients’ future earnings. Students who receive free tuition for four years have to remain in New York State for four years after graduating, or pay the money back. This means they won’t be able to seize out-of-state opportunities during the crucial years when their career track is being formed. They’ll be trapped in a state with one really expensive city, and other regions where good jobs are scarce.

This is a really counterproductive law. We’re all focused on Trump, but one of the reasons Trump was elected was that many of the people who try to use government to do good just haven’t thought things through.

Now here’s what “gemli” had to say about this:

“You know Cuomo is on the right track when David Brooks starts worrying about poor people. Not that he doesn’t like to talk about their plight. He takes every opportunity to promote the idea of leaving government out of the people-helping business. Volunteers are supposed to help at the community level, according to Brooks, which frees up the government to help the rich.

In this example, poor people, who may never have a chance to get a college education under any circumstances, are hit with an eight-point Brooksian fusillade of reasons why free college would be a huge burden to them, and ruin their lives, along with the great state of New York.

Looking back, my education in New Orleans in the late 1960s was nearly free. I paid for six years of college as a student worker, and earned a B.S. and an M.S. degree in the process. Looking back a bit further, the government paid returning G.I.s to go to school, and the result was the biggest social and economic upsurge in living memory.

Today, graduates are saddled with so much debt from usurious student loans that it’s a national disgrace. Nobody fixes the problem because the financial industry loves it. It’s a cash cow that never stops giving milk.

All of Brooks’ bogus complaints are aimed at making sure the status quo doesn’t change. And if anyone hadn’t already noticed, the status quo is a lousy place for the poor to be. The only door that leads out is one that opens into a classroom.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Three weeks have passed since the Trumpcare debacle. After eight years spent denouncing the Affordable Care Act, the G.O.P. finally found itself in a position to do what it had promised, and deliver something better. But it couldn’t.

And Republicans, President Trump very much included, had nobody but themselves to blame. Basically, the party has been lying all this time, and the lies finally caught up with the liars. Mr. Trump promised health care that would be “far less expensive and far better”; in the event, all he and his allies had to offer were surging premiums, higher out-of-pocket expenses and mass loss of coverage.

But Mr. Trump, as you may have noticed, isn’t big on accepting responsibility for his failures. Instead, he has decided to blame Democrats for not cooperating in the destruction of their proudest achievement in decades. And on Wednesday, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he openly threatened to sabotage health care for millions if the opposition party doesn’t give him what he wants.

In that interview, the president of the United States sounded just like a mobster trying to extort protection payments from a shopkeeper.

“Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money,” he declared, referring to cost-sharing subsidies that reduce out-of-pocket expenses for low-income families, and are crucial even to higher-income families, because they help keep insurance companies in the system. “I don’t want people to get hurt.” (Nice shop you’ve got here, shame if something were to happen to it.) “What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.” (I’m making them an offer they can’t refuse.)

It’s a nasty political tactic. It’s also remarkably stupid.

The nastiness should be obvious, but let’s spell it out. Mr. Trump is trying to bully Democrats by threatening to hurt millions of innocent bystanders — ordinary American families who have gained coverage thanks to health reform. True, Democrats care about these families — but Republicans at least pretend to care about them, too.

Why does Mr. Trump even imagine that this threat might work? Implicitly, he’s saying that hurting innocent people doesn’t bother him as much as it bothers his opponents. Actually, this is probably true — remember, we’re talking about a man who once cut off health benefits to his nephew’s seriously ill 18-month-old son to gain the upper hand in a family dispute. But it’s not the kind of thing one expects to hear from the occupant of the White House.

What makes Mr. Trump’s tactic stupid as well as nasty is the reality that Democrats have no incentive whatsoever to give in.

For one thing, what is he offering by way of a deal? Obamacare increased coverage two ways, via Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance. Mr. Trump might be able to undermine the private markets, but Medicaid wouldn’t be affected. Why would Democrats ever agree to Republican plans, which would basically kill both?

Then there’s the political reality that by sabotaging Obamacare, the Trump administration would be handing Democrats a huge electoral gift. Bear in mind that the places that are already poorly served by private insurers, and would therefore be most hurt, are relatively poor, rural areas — places that overwhelmingly voted Trump last year.

Maybe Mr. Trump believes that he could somehow shift the blame for the devastation he has threatened to wreak onto Democrats. “See, there’s the death spiral I predicted!” But that probably wouldn’t work even if he hadn’t effectively proclaimed his own guilt in advance. Voters tend to blame whoever holds the White House for bad things, and in this case they’d be right: If there is a death spiral, it will have Mr. Trump’s name on it, and deservedly so.

Put it this way: There’s a reason an open letter to Mr. Trump urging that the cost-sharing subsidies be maintained was signed by a wide array of lobbying organizations, including very conservative groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. What they understand is that sabotaging Obamacare would be a disaster for their interests.

So the Trump health care threat is, as I said, stupid as well as nasty. And it’s hard to believe that it will be carried out.

But here’s the thing: Even if Mr. Trump wimps out, as he is doing on so many other issues, he may already have done much of the threatened damage. Insurers are deciding right now whether to participate in the 2018 Obamacare exchanges. Mr. Trump’s tough talk is creating a lot of uncertainty, which in itself may undermine coverage for many Americans.

There is, of course, a good chance that Mr. Trump doesn’t understand any of this. Unfortunately, when you’re in the White House, what you don’t know can hurt a lot of people.

Krugman’s blog, 4/12/17

April 13, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “The French, Ourselves:”

Still thinking about the upcoming French election. Will Le Pen be the next Trump? I have no idea. But I’ve been interested to note how little resemblance there is between the underlying economics in France and here, which in turn raises further doubts about how far “economic anxiety” goes toward explaining the faux-populist surge.

One thing you have to bear in mind is that the French economy gets terrible press — some combination of conservative bias (with such a generous welfare state they *should* be a disaster, dammit) and cultural envy/annoyance. A few years back Roger Cohen quoted himself about how there is a

pervasive sense that not only jobs — but also power, wealth, ideas and national identity itself — are migrating, permanently and at disarming speed, to leave a vapid grandeur on the banks of the Seine

then noted wryly that he wrote that in 1997; and somehow France is still there.

In fact, the 1990s were something of a low point; in a number of key ways France has done better since then, especially compared with the United States. Official unemployment is high, but that’s somewhat misleading. If you look at adults in their prime working years, they’re actually more likely to be employed in France than they are here:


OECD and BLS

French productivity has gone from slightly above to slightly below the US level, perhaps because more people are employed; but anyway, given the wiggle room in such numbers, we’re basically looking at a country that is at the technological frontier:


OECD

And France has, so far at least, been spared the Case-Deaton epidemic of “deaths of despair”:

If very low inflation is any indicator, the French economy does appear to be operating somewhat below potential. But it’s not in macroeconomic crisis.

And as I wrote yesterday, France is not Greece: the euro was a bad idea, but France is not a nation currently suffering severely from lack of an independent currency, so there is no urgency about exit — and hence no obvious reason to incur the huge costs euro exit would impose.

So what’s it all about? Presumably it’s about identity politics, French style. But my point is that the economic anxiety trope works even worse for France than it does here.

Oh, and let me repeat: Le Pen does not offer any answer to the problems of the EU.

Kristof and Collins

April 13, 2017

Mr. Kristof has some ideas on “How to Stand Up to Trump and Win.”  He says don’t just hold a sign. Experts share how to resist and get results.  Ms. Collins, in “Trump Versus the Love Gov,” says let’s compare the president and Alabama’s new former chief executive.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

After President Trump’s election, a wave of furious opposition erupted. It was an emotional mix of denial and anger, the first two stages of grief, and it wasn’t very effective.

Yet increasingly that has matured into thoughtful efforts to channel the passion into a movement organized toward results. One example: the wave of phone calls to congressional offices that torpedoed the Republican “health care plan.”

Yes, Trump opponents lost the election and we have to recognize that elections have consequences. But if “resistance” has a lefty ring to it, it can also be framed as a patriotic campaign to protect America from someone who we think would damage it.

So what are the lessons from resistance movements around the world that have actually succeeded? I’ve been quizzing the experts, starting with Gene Sharp, a scholar here in Boston.

Sharp’s works — now in at least 45 languages and available free online — helped the Baltic countries win freedom from Russia, later guided students in bringing democracy to Serbia, and deeply influenced the strategy of Arab Spring protesters. Sharp is THE expert on challenging authoritarians, and orders for his writings have surged since Trump’s election.

Today Sharp is 89 and in fading health. But his longtime collaborator, Jamila Raqib, has been holding workshops for anti-Trump activists, and there have even been similar sessions for civil servants in Washington exploring how they should serve under a leader they distrust.

The main message Sharp and Raqib offered is that effectiveness does not come from pouring out into the street in symbolic protests. It requires meticulous research, networking and preparation.

“Think!” Sharp said. “Think before you do anything. You need a lot of knowledge first.” His work emphasizes grass-roots organizing, searching out weak spots in an administration — and patience before turning to 198 nonviolent methods he has put into a list, from strikes to consumer boycotts to mock awards.

Raqib recommended pragmatic efforts seeking a particular outcome, not just a vague yearning for the end of Trump. When pushed, she said that calls for a general strike in February were insufficiently organized, and that the Women’s March on Washington, which had its first protest the day after Inauguration Day, will ideally become anchored in a larger strategy for change. But she thinks the “Day Without Immigrants” protest was well crafted, and the same for the bodega strike by Yemeni immigrants.

Sam Daley-Harris, another maestro of effective protest, agrees on a focus on results, not just symbolic protest. He has overseen groups like Results and the Citizens Climate Lobby that have had outsize influence on policy, so I asked him what citizens upset at Trump should do.

“The overarching answer is to work with your member of Congress,” Daley-Harris told me. He suggested focusing on a particular issue that you can become deeply knowledgeable about. Then work with others to push for a meeting with a member of Congress, a state lawmaker or even a legislative staff member.

He recommended speaking courteously — anyone too hostile is dismissed and loses influence — and being very specific about which bill you want the person to support or oppose.

I’m encouraged by the increasing savvy of the resistance efforts, with excellent online resources cropping up and grass-roots groups like EmergeAmerica.org and RunforSomething.net developing to train people who want to run for political office. Students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government have organized “Resistance School,” a kind of online teach-in to sharpen the tools activists need. The first 90-minute webcast had more than 50,000 streams.

“We wanted to move away from a defensive response to an offensive response, not just marching but also thinking of longterm strategy,” one of the organizers, Shanoor Seervai, told me.

To students of resistance — patriotic resistance! — let me offer three lessons from my own experience reporting on pro-democracy movements over decades, from China to Egypt, Mongolia to Taiwan.

First, advocates are often university-educated elites who can come across as patronizing. So skip the lofty rhetoric and emphasize issues of pocketbooks and corruption. Centrist voters may not care whether Trump is riding roughshod over institutions, but they’ll care if he rips them off or costs them jobs.

Second, movements must always choose between purity and breadth — and usually they overdo the purity. It’s often possible to achieve more with a broader coalition, cooperating with people one partially disagrees with. I think it was a mistake, for example, for the Women’s March to disdain “pro-life” feminists.

Third, nothing deflates an authoritarian more than ridicule. When Serbian youths challenged the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, they put his picture on a barrel and rolled it down the street, allowing passers-by to whack it with a bat.

In recruiting for the Trump resistance, Stephen Colbert may be more successful than a handful of angry Democratic senators. Trump can survive denunciations, but I’m less sure that in the long run he can withstand mockery.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Our question for today is: How does Donald Trump compare to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, the now-famous “Love Gov”?

Bentley resigned this week after a long-running sex scandal. Trump, who used to be a king of sex scandals, doesn’t have any presidential ones. When the day is done and the moon is high, our chief executive now appears to be moved mainly by the siren song of Fox and Twitter.

But nobody’s forgotten those girl-grabbing tapes from the campaign. There’s also currently a grope-related lawsuit. And recently, his sympathetic take on Bill O’Reilly’s multiple sexual harassment problems. Plus, face it: These days we cannot possibly talk about anything without bringing up Donald Trump: chocolate cake, funny dog videos, Easter, professional wrestling, Millard Fillmore.…

But first, Governor Bentley. Our story begins in 2014, when he was re-elected by a whopping margin, wearing the image of a kindly family man. However, during the march to victory, his wife recorded her husband having a conversation with campaign aide Rebekah Mason that centered heavily around feeling up Mason’s breasts. And his staff couldn’t help noticing that the governor started calling Mason “baby” during staff meetings.

Lots and lots of incidents later, Mrs. Bentley filed for divorce after 50 years of marriage. She also gave investigators a ton of love texts — thanks to what appeared to be a certain technological ineptitude on the part of her husband. (They included the immortal “Bless our hearts. And other parts.”)

The State Legislature began to investigate. After the release of a 131-page report, 3,000 pages of documents, threats of felony charges and a thumbs down from the State Ethics Commission, Bentley finally agreed to quit, plead guilty to two misdemeanors and promise never to run for office again — the last not appearing to be a likely problem.

Now Bentley is obviously a very, very different guy from Donald Trump, who is never going to be married to anybody for 50 years. Trump’s children are in his employ, while Bentley’s show up in the report trying to get their father checked for dementia. However, there are some commonalities: Both men are in their 70s and have a thing for messaging via cellphone.

One of the most useful lessons of the Bentley scandal, in fact, was that when your wife’s name is Dianne, it’s a very bad idea to send her a text saying “I love you, Rebekah.”

Both guys have a history of bragging about their special privileges. In Trump’s case there was all that talk about his right to go into the Miss Universe dressing room and stare at naked ladies, and, of course, the famous recorded boast about how “when you’re a star” you get to grab women by their private parts, whether they like it or not. Bentley told an unhappy staffer that as governor, people had to “bow to his throne.”

Differences: Mason, a former TV anchor, first entered Bentley’s employ as his press secretary. Trump’s press secretary is Sean Spicer, and that is never, ever going to be a compromising relationship. On the other hand, Rebekah Mason never claimed that Hitler didn’t use poison gas on any Germans.

Bentley went crazy trying to shut down gossip that he was committing adultery, and it’s hard to imagine Trump reacting the same way. Back in the day, when New York papers were full of stories about him cheating on his wife, Ivana, with an aspiring actress named Marla Maples, he had a squad of publicists on the case. But none of them seemed to be trying to discourage the coverage. “We got absolutely no pushback,” agreed Matt Storin, who was then an editor at The Daily News.

In the end, Bentley may have been undone less by his affair than by the financial flimflammery on the side. (His lover’s husband, a former weatherman, got a $91,000-a-year job as director of the state’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service.)

So far, we haven’t heard reports about Trump spending public money to please a former mistress. As opposed to spending public money taking heads of state to his resort or providing security for the kids when they go abroad to make business deals.

On occasion we are reminded that the worst things that happen in this world are generally not about consensual sex.

Morning Consult, a nonpartisan polling company, recently queried registered voters across America on their attitudes toward their governors, and Alabama’s got a 44 percent job approval rating, with 48 percent disapproving. That’s bad, but there were nine other governors who ranked lower.

Pop Quiz: Guess who ranked on the very bottom of the chart?

A) Chris Christie

B) Chris Christie

C) Chris Christie

On the list of things the voters dislike, it appears, sex takes a back seat to running around the country behaving like Donald Trump’s spaniel. And now we’ll wait to see how long it is before people start shaking their heads and saying President Trump is acting crazier than that governor in Alabama.

Krugman’s blog, 4/11/17

April 12, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Europe Has Problems, But Le Pen Is Not The Answer:”

France will have its presidential election in a few weeks, and there are understandable concerns that it may be another Trump shock. In particular, the travails of the euro have tarnished the reputation of the European project – the long march toward peace and prosperity through economic integration – and played into the hands of anti-Europe politicians. And French contacts tell me that the Le Pen campaign is trying to portray critiques of European policies from prominent economists as implicit endorsements of the FN platform.

They aren’t.

I’ve been a harsh critic both of the euro and of the austerity policies followed in the euro area since 2010. France could and should be doing much better than it is. But the kinds of policies the FN is talking about – unilateral exit from not just the euro but the EU – would hurt, not help, the French economy.

Start with the euro. The single currency was and is a flawed project, and countries that never joined – Sweden, the UK, Iceland – have benefited from the flexibility that comes from independent currencies. There is, however, a huge difference between choosing not to join in the first place and leaving once in. The transition costs of euro exit and restoration of a national currency would be huge: massive capital flight would cause a banking crisis, capital controls and bank holidays would have to be imposed, problems of how to value contracts would create a legal morass, business would be disrupted during a long interim period of confusion and uncertainty.

These costs might nonetheless be worth bearing under extreme circumstances, such as those facing Greece: a severely depressed economy that needs a radical reduction in costs relative to its trading partners might find even a costly euro exit followed by devaluation preferable to years of grinding deflation.

France, however, does not fit that description. French employment performance should be better, but it’s not terrible – prime-age adults are more likely to be employed than they are in the United States. And since the creation of the euro, French labor costs have roughly tracked the average for the euro area as a whole, so there’s little reason to believe that a restored franc would or should experience a large devaluation:


OECD

In short, for France exiting the euro would bring all the costs that Greece would have faced, without any of the benefits.

What about the EU in general? There is every reason to believe that membership in the EU, making France part of a far larger market than it could provide on its own, makes French industry more productive and offers French citizens a wider range of cheaper products than they would otherwise be able to buy. Sorry, but France just isn’t big enough to prosper with inward-looking, nationalist economic policies. And given the benefits of being part of a larger economic entity, being part of Schengen – which reduces the frictions and makes integration work better – should be seen as a privilege, not a burden.

I’m not by any means saying that the EU is fine, or that French policy is great. The European consensus in favor of austerity was immensely wrong-headed and destructive – and France has been far too willing to impose unnecessary austerity on itself. I sometimes say that the most serious economic ailment France suffers from is hypochondria, a willingness to believe propaganda that has portrayed it as the sick man of Europe for more than three decades, even as it continues to exhibit high productivity and decent employment performance.

The point, however, is that nothing the FN has to offer would move France in the right direction. Just because Le Pen and economists like me are both critical of European policy doesn’t mean we have anything in common.

Friedman, solo

April 12, 2017

The Moustache of Wisdom has a question:  “Why Is Trump Fighting ISIS in Syria?”  He says a strategy built on territory won’t ultimately eliminate the terrorist group.  Well, I’m sure that Mein Fubar and his merry band will figure it all out in 1 or 2 Friedman Units…  Here’s TMOW:

The Trump foreign policy team has been all over the map on what to do next in Syria — topple the regime, intensify aid to rebels, respond to any new attacks on innocent civilians. But when pressed, there is one idea everyone on the team seems to agree on: “The defeat of ISIS,” as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it.

Well, let me add to their confusion by asking just one question: Why?

Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? Of course, ISIS is detestable and needs to be eradicated. But is it really in our interest to be focusing solely on defeating ISIS in Syria right now?

Let’s go through the logic: There are actually two ISIS manifestations.

One is “virtual ISIS.” It is satanic, cruel and amorphous; it disseminates its ideology through the internet. It has adherents across Europe and the Muslim world. In my opinion, that ISIS is the primary threat to us, because it has found ways to deftly pump out Sunni jihadist ideology that inspires and gives permission to those Muslims on the fringes of society who feel humiliated — from London to Paris to Cairo — to recover their dignity via headline-grabbing murders of innocents.

The other incarnation is “territorial ISIS.” It still controls pockets in western Iraq and larger sectors of Syria. Its goal is to defeat Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria — plus its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah allies — and to defeat the pro-Iranian Shiite regime in Iraq, replacing both with a caliphate.

Challenge No. 1: Not only will virtual ISIS, which has nodes all over the world, not go away even if territorial ISIS is defeated, I believe virtual ISIS will become yet more virulent to disguise the fact that it has lost the territorial caliphate to its archenemies: Shiite Iran, Hezbollah, pro-Shiite militias in Iraq, the pro-Shiite Assad regime in Damascus and Russia, not to mention America.

Challenge No. 2: America’s goal in Syria is to create enough pressure on Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah so they will negotiate a power-sharing accord with moderate Sunni Muslims that would also ease Assad out of power. One way to do that would be for NATO to create a no-fly safe zone around Idlib Province, where many of the anti-Assad rebels have gathered and where Assad recently dropped his poison gas on civilians. But Congress and the U.S. public are clearly wary of that.

So what else could we do? We could dramatically increase our military aid to anti-Assad rebels, giving them sufficient anti-tank and antiaircraft missiles to threaten Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah and Syrian helicopters and fighter jets and make them bleed, maybe enough to want to open negotiations. Fine with me.

What else? We could simply back off fighting territorial ISIS in Syria and make it entirely a problem for Iran, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad. After all, they’re the ones overextended in Syria, not us. Make them fight a two-front war — the moderate rebels on one side and ISIS on the other. If we defeat territorial ISIS in Syria now, we will only reduce the pressure on Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah and enable them to devote all their resources to crushing the last moderate rebels in Idlib, not sharing power with them.

I don’t get it. President Trump is offering to defeat ISIS in Syria for free — and then pivot to strengthening the moderate anti-Assad rebels. Why? When was the last time Trump did anything for free? When was the last real estate deal Trump did where he volunteered to clean up a toxic waste dump — for free — before he negotiated with the owner on the price of the golf course next door?

This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia.

Trump should want to defeat ISIS in Iraq. But in Syria? Not for free, not now. In Syria, Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan.

Yes, in the long run we want to crush ISIS everywhere, but the only way to crush ISIS and keep it crushed on the ground is if we have moderate Sunnis in Syria and Iraq able and willing to replace it. And those will only emerge if there are real power-sharing deals in Syria and Iraq — and that will only happen if Assad, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah feel pressured to share power.

And while I am at it, where is Trump’s Twitter feed when we need it? He should be tweeting every day this message: “Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have become the protectors of a Syrian regime that uses poison gas on babies! Babies! Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad — poison gas enablers. Sad.”

Do not let them off the hook! We need to make them own what they’ve become — enablers of a Syria that uses poison gas on children. Believe it or not, they won’t like being labeled that way. Trump needs to use his global Twitter feed strategically. Barack Obama never played this card. Trump needs to slam it down every day. It creates leverage.

Syria is not a knitting circle. Everyone there plays dirty, deviously and without mercy. Where’s that Trump when we need him?

Solo Bobo

April 11, 2017

Bobo is considering “This Age of Wonkery” and deeply ponders the life of the mind, then and now.  I’m running late, so no comment from anyone, but they’re classic.  Here he is:

If you were a certain sort of ideas-oriented young person coming of age in the 20th century, it was very likely you would give yourself a label and join some movement. You’d call yourself a Marxist, a neoconservative, a Freudian, an existentialist or a New Deal liberal.

There would be certain sacred writers who would explain the world to you — from Jung to Camus, Dewey or Chesterton. There’d probably be a small magazine where the doctrines of your sect would be hammered out.

People today seem less likely to give themselves intellectual labels or join self-conscious philosophical movements. Young people today seem more likely to have their worldviews shaped by trips they have taken, or causes they have been involved in, or the racial or ethnic or gender identity group they identify with.

That’s changed the nature of the American intellectual scene, the way people approach the world and the lives they live.

In his book, “The Ideas Industry,” Daniel W. Drezner says we’ve shifted from a landscape dominated by public intellectuals to a world dominated by thought leaders. A public intellectual is someone like Isaiah Berlin, who is trained to comment on a wide array of public concerns from a specific moral stance. A thought leader champions one big idea to improve the world — think Al Gore’s work on global warming.

As Drezner puts it, intellectuals are critical, skeptical and tend to be pessimistic. Thought leaders are evangelists for their idea and tend to be optimistic. The world of Davos-like conferences, TED talks and PopTech rewards thought leaders, not intellectuals, Drezner argues.

Intellectual life has fallen out of favor for several reasons, he continues. In a low-trust era, people no longer have as much faith in grand intellectuals to serve as cultural arbiters. In a polarized era, ideologically minded funders like George Soros or the Koch bothers will only pay for certain styles of thought work. In an unequal era, rich people like to go to Big Idea conferences, and when they do they want to hear ideas that are going to have some immediate impact — Jeffrey Sachs’s latest plan to end world poverty or Amy Cuddy’s findings on how to adopt the right power stance.

Drezner doesn’t call this a decline, just a shift (let’s not underestimate how silly and wrong some of the grand, sweeping intellectuals could be). But I’m struck by how people’s relationship to ideas has changed.

In the first place, public thinkers now conceive of themselves as legislative advisers. Drezner writes a book called “The Ideas Industry,” but he is really writing about public policy. When George Orwell, Simone de Beauvoir or even Ralph Waldo Emerson were writing, they were hoping to radically change society, but nobody would confuse them with policy wonks.

Second, there was a greater sense then than now, I think, that the very nature of society was up for grabs. Call it a vestige from Marxism or maybe Christianity, but there was a sense that the current fallen order was fragile and that a more just mode of living was out there to be imagined.

Finally, intellectual life was just seen as more central to progress. Intellectuals establish the criteria by which things are measured and goals are set. Intellectuals create the frameworks within which politicians operate. How can you have a plan unless you are given a theory? Intellectuals create the age.

Doing that sort of work meant leading the sort of exceptional life that allowed you to emerge from the cave — to see truth squarely and to be fully committed to the cause. Creating a just society was the same thing as transforming yourself into a moral person.

For George Orwell, this meant being with the poor and the oppressed — living as a homeless tramp in England, a dishwasher in Paris, getting shot through the neck as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War. It meant teaching himself how to turn political writing into an art form.

For the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, it meant committing fully to ideas, even if it meant years in prison, and doing the rigorous mental work required for a life of hard thinking. He was as left as can be, but he believed in traditional school curriculums, the tough grinding of learning Latin and Greek grammar. “It will be necessary to resist the tendency to render easy that which cannot become easy without being distorted,” he wrote.

It also meant joining a tradition and a team. There were a whole set of moral tests involved with obedience to the movement, breaking ranks when necessary, facing unpleasant truths, pioneering a collective way of living, whether feminist, Marxist or libertarian.

The 20th century held up intellectuals like that, and then discredited them — too many were too wrong about communism and fascism. But we’ve probably over-adjusted, and deprived a generation of a vision of the heroic intellectual. It’s good to have people who think about North Korean disarmament. But politics is most real at a more essential level.

I wonder if any of us remember what he had to say about Al Gore and his stance on climate change…

Blow and Krugman

April 10, 2017

In “War as Political Weapon” Mr. Blow says that on Syria, we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms.  Prof. Krugman, in “Publicity Stunts Aren’t Policy,” offers a hint: Winning news cycles is no substitute for the real thing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has turned his back on pretty much everything he has ever said about United States military involvement in Syria and launched nearly 60 missiles at an air base in the country.

Trump’s official statement claimed that the strikes were in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s monstrous chemical weapons attack against his own people. But the statement also went further into the fiction of fear often touted to buttress humanitarian missions: “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

This has echoes of the George W. Bush warning about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” a lie that led us into a near decade-long war.

Not to be indelicate here, but atrocities happen in the world all the time (and have happened on an even larger scale before in Syria). Humans are capable of unimaginable cruelty. Sometimes the victims die quickly and are made visible by media for the world to see. Other times, they die in slow motion, out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes banned weapons are used; sometimes conventional weapons; sometimes, neglect, isolation and starvation.

And the world in general, and America in particular, has a way of being wishy-washy about which atrocities deserve responses and which ones don’t. These decisions can be capricious at best and calculated camouflages for ulterior motives at worst.

Continue reading the main story

Indeed, the motivations for military action needn’t be singular at all, but are often multiple, tucked one inside the other like nesting dolls.

Acts of war can themselves be used as political weapons. They can distract attention, quell acrimony, increase appetite for military spending and give a boost to sagging approval ratings.

This “rally-around-the-flag” (or “rally”) effect is well documented by pollsters.

As Gallup wrote in 2001 after the attack of 9/11: “In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86 percent, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H. W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings — the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89 percent (the highest ever) and 87 percent ratings, and Truman with 87 percent just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.”

It’s easy to sell the heroism of a humanitarian mission or the fear of terror or the two in tandem, as Trump attempted in this case.

The temptation to unleash America’s massive war machine is seductive and also addictive. Put that power in the hands of a man like Trump, who operates more on impulse and intuition than intellect, and the world should shiver.

The problem comes when the initial glow dims and darkness descends. We punch holes in some place on the other side of the world and the war hawks — many beholden to the military-industrial complex — squawk and parade about with chests swollen.

But, feeding the beast of war only amplifies its appetite. Market Watch reported last week, “It could cost about $60 million to replace the cruise missiles that the U.S. military rained on Syrian targets Thursday night,” but Fortune reported that shares of weapons manufacturers, as soon as they began trading Friday, were “collectively gaining nearly $5 billion in market value.”

War is a business, a lucrative one.

Americans, who rightly are appalled by the images of dead children, applaud. They feel proud to slap the hand of a villain without risking American bodies. But now American might is irrevocably engaged. Our thumb is on the scale, and our reputation on the line.

Often, action begets more action, as unintended consequences sprout like weeds.

In the most extreme cases, we take down a bad leader in some poor country. In theory, this helps the citizens of that country. But in the complex reality that we have had to keep learning over and over in recent history, it often creates a vacuum where one bad man can be replaced by even worse men.

We are then already in waist-deep. We have to make an impossible choice: stay and try to fix what we broke or abandon it and watch our nightmares multiply.

Nobility of the crusade is consumed by the quagmire.

This is why we would all do well to temper the self-congratulatory war speeches and thrusting of pom-poms of our politicians and pundits, some of whom hypocritically opposed the use of military force by President Obama following an even worse chemical attack in Syria in 2013.

As righteous as we may feel about punishing Assad, Syria is a hornet’s nest of forces hostile to America: Assad, Russia, and Iran on one flank and ISIS on another. You can’t afflict one faction without assisting the other. In this way, Syria is a nearly unwinnable state.

We’ve been down this road before. Just over the horizon is a hill: Steep and greased with political motives, military ambitions, American blood and squandered treasury.

Being weary here isn’t a sign of weakness; to the contrary, it’s a display of hard-won wisdom.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Does anyone still remember the Carrier deal? Back in December President-elect Donald Trump announced, triumphantly, that he had reached a deal with the air-conditioner manufacturer to keep 1,100 jobs in America rather than moving them to Mexico. And the media spent days celebrating the achievement.

Actually, the number of jobs involved was more like 700, but who’s counting? Around 75,000 U.S. workers are laid off or fired every working day, so a few hundred here or there hardly matter for the overall picture.

Whatever Mr. Trump did or didn’t achieve with Carrier, the real question was whether he would take steps to make a lasting difference.

So far, he hasn’t; there isn’t even the vague outline of a real Trumpist jobs policy. And corporations and investors seem to have decided that the Carrier deal was all show, no substance, that for all his protectionist rhetoric Mr. Trump is a paper tiger in practice. After pausing briefly, the ongoing move of manufacturing to Mexico has resumed, while the Mexican peso, whose value is a barometer of expected U.S. trade policy, has recovered almost all its post-November losses.

In other words, showy actions that win a news cycle or two are no substitute for actual, coherent policies. Indeed, their main lasting effect can be to squander a government’s credibility. Which brings us to last week’s missile strike on Syria.

The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches.

But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action. No doubt the Assad forces took some real losses, but there’s no reason to believe that a one-time action will have any effect on the course of Syria’s civil war.

In fact, if last week’s action was the end of the story, the eventual effect may well be to strengthen the Assad regime — Look, they stood up to a superpower! — and weaken American credibility. To achieve any lasting result, Mr. Trump would have to get involved on a sustained basis in Syria.

Doing what, you ask? Well, that’s the big question — and the lack of good answers to that question is the reason President Barack Obama decided not to start something nobody knew how to finish.

So what have we learned from the Syria attack and its aftermath?

No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.

Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.

What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Mr. Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.

So here’s a hint: Real leadership means devising and carrying out sustained policies that make the world a better place. Publicity stunts may generate a few days of favorable media coverage, but they end up making America weaker, not stronger, because they show the world that we have a government that can’t follow through.

And has anyone seen a sign, any sign, that Mr. Trump is ready to provide real leadership in that sense? I haven’t.

Krugman’s blog, 4/6/17

April 7, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Iceland 1991:”

A historical curiosity: the other day Gauti Eggertsson asked if I had a copy of the report I wrote on Icelandic currency policy back in 1991, since there doesn’t seem to be one online anywhere. Sure enough, I had a copy of the draft — a physical copy — on file. So here’s an upload of the scan.

The report itself is basically optimum currency area theory, with fish. I made what I think is an interesting comparison between Iceland and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, but missed the fiscal integration angle. Still, this doesn’t read too badly a quarter-century and a financial crisis later.