Posts Tagged ‘Krugman’

Krugman’s blog, 9/25/17

September 26, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Why Do You Care How Much Other People Work? Revisited:”

Greg Leiserson has an interesting post on assessing tax reform, in which he argues that distribution tables — showing the direct gains and losses from a tax change — properly measure welfare gains, and don’t need to be revised to consider the induced effects on labor supply, effort etc.

This caught my eye because I made a similar point three years ago with regard to projections of labor supply reduction from Obamacare.

The point in each case is that while changes in taxes or transfers may induce changes in how much people work, when you assess these changes you have to bear in mind that, to a first approximation, workers are paid their marginal product. This means that if increased transfers induce some people to work less, it also causes them to earn less, so that the rest of society isn’t any worse off; if lower taxes induce high earners to work more, it also means that they’re paid more, so that the rest of society doesn’t reap any of the gains.

This is also, by the way, the logic behind the Diamond-Saez proposition that the optimal top tax rate is the one that maximizes revenue: aside from the taxes they pay, increased effort by the very rich to a first approximation makes no difference to everyone else, because the increase in output is fully captured by higher top incomes.

All of this gets obscured by talk about economic growth. Reminder: workers care about their welfare, not what happens to GDP. Making the rich richer without trickle down does the rest of us no good.

 

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Blow and Krugman

September 25, 2017

In “A Rebel, A Warrior and a Race Fiend” Mr. Blow says that Donald Trump’s insults are about a lot more than football and flags.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trapped By Their Own Lies,” explains why Republicans can win, but can’t govern.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is operating the White House as a terror cell of racial grievance in America’s broader culture wars.

He has made his allegiances clear: He’s on the side of white supremacists, white nationalists, ethno-racists, Islamophobes and anti-Semites. He is simpatico with that cesspool.

And nothing gets his goat quite like racial minorities who stand up for themselves or stand up to him.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors was asked about the annual rite of championship teams visiting the White House, and Curry made clear that he didn’t want to go because “we basically don’t stand for what our president has said, and the things he hasn’t said at the right time.”

Trump responded to Curry’s expressed desire not to go by seeming to disinvite the entire team, to which Curry responded with a level of class that is foreign to Trump. Curry said, “It’s surreal, to be honest.” Curry continued: “I don’t know why he feels the need to target certain individuals, rather than others. I have an idea of why, but it’s kind of beneath a leader of a country to go that route. That’s not what leaders do.”

Of course, Curry is correct. Not only is this episode surreal, the entire Trump tenure is surreal. He is not a leader.

Separately, on Friday night at a political rally in Alabama, Trump took to task N.F.L. players who kneel in protest during the national anthem and N.F.L. owners who allow it.

Trump said owners should respond by saying: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. Fired!”

Pause. No, full stop. Folks, this cretin is who we are supposed to call a “president.” He uses harsher language against people quietly protesting injustice than he does against violent racists marching through the streets. Unbelievable. O.K., continue.

Last year, Colin Kaepernick, who was then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, kicked off these protests when he began to quietly kneel during the pre-game playing of the national anthem.

At the time he explained his rationale to NFL Media, saying: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” He continued, “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Let alone that the anthem was authored by a white supremacist, Francis Scott Key, who was a proponent of African colonization — exporting free blacks back to Africa — and an opponent of the anti-slavery movement.

Let alone the fact that the third stanza of that anthem, the part that you never hear, goes like this:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,

A home and a country, should leave us no more?

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave,

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.

This is thought by some to be an excoriation of the Colonial Marines, a mostly black unit composed primarily of runaway slaves who fought for the British during the War of 1812, on the promise of attaining their freedom. The unit humiliated Key’s own unit in battle.

As Jason Johnson, a professor of political science at Morgan State University and political editor at The Root wrote on the site last yearWith a few exceptions,” Key “was about as pro-slavery, anti-black and anti-abolitionist as you could get at the time.”

Kaepernick’s objection is valid on its own, but the anthem itself is problematic. It all points to the complexity we encounter when we pull back the gauzy veil of hagiographic history we have woven.

The exploitation of black bodies and the spilling of black blood are an indelible part of the American story, and how we deal with that says everything about where we are as a nation and who we are.

This is about far more than football and flags, about more than basketball and battle cries. This is about American memory, the ongoing quest for equality, the racial inequities fused to the DNA of power in this country. This is also about the response to minority advances and the coming minority-to-majority demographic conversion.

This is about the honest appraisal of what America was, is, and should be.

Trump is not a proper leader for any moment or any conversation, let alone this moment and this conversation.

Trump has no desire to advance truth and reconciliation when it comes to race in this country. His venality and vulgarity seeks only to exploit white racial anxiety and hostility, in the most vulgar of terms, to maximum political gain.

With every passing day, Trump diminishes the office of the presidency and elevates a virulent strain of racial animus. Trumpism is becoming ever more synonymous with racism.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Saturday pretty much the entire medical sector — groups representing doctors, hospitals, and insurers — released an extraordinary open letter condemning the Graham-Cassidy health bill. The letter was written in the style of Emile Zola’s “J’accuse”: a series of paragraphs, each beginning with the bolded words “We agree,” pointing out the bill’s many awful features, from the harm it would do to people with pre-existing conditions to the chaos it would cause in insurance markets.

It takes a truly terrible proposal to elicit such eloquent unanimity from organizations that are usually cautious to the point of stodginess. So how did Republicans come up with something that bad, and how did that bad thing get so close to becoming law? Indeed, it still has a chance of being enacted despite John McCain’s “no.”

The answer is that Republicans have spent years routinely lying for the sake of political advantage. And now — not just on health care, but across the board — they are trapped by their own lies, forced into trying to enact policies they know won’t work.

Reporting on why the G.O.P. plowed ahead with Graham-Cassidy makes it clear that many Republicans supporting it are well aware that it’s a bad bill, although they may not appreciate just how bad. “You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered,” said Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa. “But,” he continued, “Republicans have campaigned on this,” meaning repeal-and-replace, and had to fulfill their promise.

Carl Hulse of The New York Times adds more detail: one big factor behind the push for Graham-Cassidy was anger among big donors, who wanted to know why Republicans had broken their vows to kill Obamacare.

But repealing the Affordable Care Act wasn’t the only thing Republicans promised; they also promised to replace it with something better and cheaper, doing away with all the things people don’t like about Obamacare without creating any new problems. Remember, it was Bill Cassidy, not Jimmy Kimmel, who came up with the “Jimmy Kimmel test,” the pledge that nobody would be denied health care because of expense.

Yet Republicans never had any idea how to fulfill that promise and meet that test, or indeed how to repeal the A.C.A. without taking insurance away from tens of millions. That is, they were lying about health care all along.

And the base, both the grass roots and the big money, believed the lies. Hence the trap in which Republicans find themselves.

The thing is, health care isn’t the only issue on which lies are coming back to bite the liars. The same story is playing out on other issues — in fact, on almost every substantive policy issue the U.S. faces.

The next big item on the G.O.P. agenda is taxes. Now, cutting taxes on corporations and the wealthy may be an easier political lift than taking health insurance away from 30 million Americans. But Republicans still have a problem, because they’ve spent years posing as the party of fiscal responsibility, and they have no idea how to cut taxes without blowing up the deficit.

As with health care, the party has masked its lack of good ideas with lies, claiming that it would offset lower tax rates and even reduce the deficit by eliminating unnamed loopholes and slashing unnamed wasteful spending. But as with health care, these lies will be revealed once actual legislation is unveiled. It’s telling that Republicans are already invoking voodoo economics to justify their as-yet-unspecified tax plans, insisting that tax cuts will pay for themselves by leading to higher economic growth.

At this point, however, few people believe them. The Bush tax cuts didn’t create a boom; neither did the Kansas tax-cut “experiment.” Conversely, the U.S. economy did fine after the 2013 Obama tax hike, as has the California economy since Jerry Brown raised state taxes. Party apparatchiks will no doubt engage in an orgy of Reaganolatry, but the broader public probably won’t be moved by (false) claims about the wondrous results of tax cuts 36 years ago.

So tax policy, like health care, will be hobbled by a legacy of lies.

Wait, there’s more.

Foreign policy isn’t usually a central concern for voters. Still, past lies have put the Trump administration in a box over things like the Iran nuclear deal: Canceling the deal would create huge problems, yet not canceling it would amount to an admission that the criticisms were dishonest.

And soon the G.O.P. may even start to pay a price for lying about climate change. As hurricanes get ever more severe — just as climate scientists predicted — climate denial is looking increasingly out of touch. Yet donors and the base would react with fury to any admission that the threat is real, after all.

The bottom line is that the bill for cynicism seems to be coming due. For years, flat-out lies about policy served Republicans well, helping them win back control of Congress and, eventually, the White House. But those same lies now leave them unable to govern.

Brooks and Krugman

September 22, 2017

In “The Coming War on Business” Bobo babbles that a quarter century ago, Sam Francis was championing the things that got Donald Trump elected last year.  Sam Francis was a crank and a racist, so I guess he’s a good precursor for Trump…  Prof. Krugman, in “Cruelty, Incompetence and Lies,” says Graham-Cassidy says a lot about the Republican Party, none of it good.  Here’s Bobo:

The only time I saw Sam Francis face-to-face — in the Washington Times cafeteria sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s — I thought he was a crank, but it’s clear now that he was at that moment becoming one of the most prescient writers of the past 50 years. There’s very little Donald Trump has done or said that Francis didn’t champion a quarter century ago.

In a series of essays for conservative magazines like Chronicles, Francis hammered home three key insights. The first was that globalization was screwing Middle America. The Cold War had just ended, capitalism seemed triumphant and the Clinton years seemed to be an era of broad prosperity. But Francis stressed that the service economy was ruining small farms and taking jobs from the working class.

His second insight was that the Republican and conservative establishment did not understand what was happening. He railed against the pro-business “Economic Men” who thought G.D.P. growth could solve the nation’s problems, and the Washington Republicans, who he thought were infected with the values of the educated elites.

In 1991, when his political mentor, Pat Buchanan, was contemplating a presidential bid, Francis told him to break with the conservative movement. “These people are defunct,” Francis told Buchanan. “Go to New Hampshire and call yourself a patriot, a nationalist, an America Firster, but don’t even use the word ‘conservative.’ It doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

His third insight was that politics was no longer about left versus right. Instead, a series of smaller conflicts — religious versus secular, nationalist versus globalist, white versus nonwhite — were all merging into a larger polarity, ruling class versus Middle America.

“Middle American groups are more and more coming to perceive their exploitation at the hands of the dominant elites. The exploitation works on several fronts — economically, by hypertaxation and the design of a globalized economy dependent on exports and services in place of manufacturing; culturally, by the managed destruction of Middle American norms and institutions; and politically, by the regimentation of Middle Americans under the federal leviathan.”

Middle American voters, he wrote, were stuck without a party, appalled by pro-corporate Republican economic policies on the one hand and liberal cultural radicalism on the other. They swung to whichever party seemed most likely to resist the ruling class, but neither party really provided a solution. “A nationalist reaction is almost inevitable and will probably assume populist form when it arrives. The sooner it comes the better.”

The Buchanan campaign was the first run at what we now know as Trumpian populism. In a profile of Francis called “The Castaway,” Michael Brendan Dougherty smartly observed that Buchanan and Francis weren’t just against government, they were against the entire cultural hegemony of the ruling class.

Francis wrote a wickedly brilliant 1996 essay on Buchanan, “From Household to Nation”: “The ‘culture war’ for Buchanan is not Republican swaggering about family values and dirty movies but a battle over whether the nation itself can continue to exist under the onslaught of the militant secularism, acquisitive egoism, economic and political globalism, demographic inundation, and unchecked state centralism supported by the ruling class.”

Francis urged Buchanan to run an unorthodox campaign (of the sort Trump ended up running), and was ignored. “If Buchanan loses the nomination, it will be because his time has not yet come,” Francis wrote. The moment would end up coming in 2016, 11 years after Francis’ death.

Francis’ thought was infected by the same cancer that may destroy Trumpism. Francis was a racist. His friends and allies counseled him not to express his racist views openly, but people like that always go there, sooner or later.

The Civil War was an open wound for many in his circle, and in 1994 Francis told a conference, “The civilization that we as whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”

He was fired by The Washington Times and cast out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley and others.

When you look at today’s world through the prism of Francis’ work, a few things seem clear: Trump is not a one-time phenomenon; the populist tide has been rising for years. His base sticks with him through scandal because it’s not just about him; it’s a movement defined against the so-called ruling class. Congressional Republicans get all tangled on health care and other issues because they l don’t understand their voters. Finally, Trump may not be the culmination, but merely a way station toward an even purer populism.

Trump is nominally pro-business. The next populism will probably take his ethnic nationalism and add an anti-corporate, anti-tech layer. Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple stand for everything Francis hated — economically, culturally, demographically and nationalistically.

As the tech behemoths intrude more deeply into daily life and our very minds, they will become a defining issue in American politics. It wouldn’t surprise me if a new demagogue emerged, one that is even more pure Francis.

Yeah, Bobo, one that is even more pure fascist, wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Graham-Cassidy, the health bill the Senate may vote on next week, is stunningly cruel. It’s also incompetently drafted: The bill’s sponsors clearly had no idea what they were doing when they put it together. Furthermore, their efforts to sell the bill involve obvious, blatant lies.

Nonetheless, the bill could pass. And that says a lot about today’s Republican Party, none of it good.

The Affordable Care Act, which has reduced the percentage of Americans without health insurance to a record low, created a three-legged stool: regulations that prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, a requirement that individuals have adequate insurance (and thus pay into the system while healthy) and subsidies to make that insurance affordable. For the lowest-income families, insurance is provided directly by Medicaid.

Graham-Cassidy saws off all three legs of that stool. Like other Republican plans, it eliminates the individual mandate. It replaces direct aid to individuals with block grants to states, under a formula that sharply reduces funding relative to current law, and especially penalizes states that have done a good job of reducing the number of uninsured. And it effectively eliminates protection for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Did Graham-Cassidy’s sponsors know what they were doing when putting this bill together? Almost surely not, or they wouldn’t have produced something that everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows anything about health care warns would cause chaos.

It’s not just progressives: The American Medical Association, the insurance industry and Blue Cross/Blue Shield have all warned that markets would be destabilized and millions would lose coverage.

How many people would lose insurance? Republicans are trying to ram the bill through before the Congressional Budget Office has time to analyze it — an attempt that is in itself a violation of all previous norms, and amounts to an admission that the bill can’t bear scrutiny. But C.B.O. has analyzed other bills containing some of Graham-Cassidy’s provisions, and these previous analyses suggest that it would add more than 30 million people to the ranks of the uninsured.

Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, and the bill’s other sponsors have responded to these critiques the old-fashioned way — with lies.

Both Cassidy and Graham insist that their bill would continue to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions — a claim that will come as news to the A.M.A., Blue Cross and everyone else who has read the bill’s text.

Cassidy has also circulated a spreadsheet that purports to show most states actually getting increased funding under his bill. But the spreadsheet doesn’t compare funding with current law, which is the relevant question. Instead, it shows changes over time in dollar amounts.

That’s actually a well-known dodge, one that Republicans have been using since Newt Gingrich tried to gut Medicare in the 1990s. As everyone in Congress — even Cassidy — surely knows, such comparisons drastically understate the real size of cuts, since under current law spending is expected to rise with inflation and population growth.

Independent analyses find that most states would, in fact, experience serious cuts in federal aid — and everyone would face huge cuts after 2027.

So we’re looking at an incompetently drafted bill that would hurt millions of people, whose sponsors are trying to sell it with transparently false claims. How is it that this bill might nonetheless pass the Senate?

One answer is that Republicans are desperate to destroy President Barack Obama’s legacy in any way possible, no matter how many American lives they ruin in the process.

Another answer is that most Republican legislators neither know nor care about policy substance. This is especially true on health care, where they never tried to understand why Obamacare looks the way it does, or how to devise a nonvicious alternative. Vox asked a number of G.O.P. senators to explain what Graham-Cassidy does; the answers ranged from incoherence to belligerence to belligerent incoherence.

I’d add that the evasions and lies we’re seeing on this bill have been standard G.O.P. operating procedure for years. The trick of converting federal programs into block grants, then pretending that this wouldn’t mean savage cuts, was central to every one of Paul Ryan’s much-hyped budgets. The trick of comparing dollar numbers over time to conceal huge benefit cuts has, as I already noted, been around since the 1990s.

In other words, Graham-Cassidy isn’t an aberration; it’s more like the distilled essence of everything wrong with modern Republicans.

Will this awful bill become law? I have no idea. But even if the handful of Republican senators who retain some conscience block it — we’re looking at you, John McCain — the underlying sickness of the G.O.P. will remain.

It’s sort of a pre-existing condition, and it’s poisoning America.

As Charlie Pierce at Esquire says, they are the mole people.

Blow and Krugman

September 18, 2017

She’s baaaack…  Thanks to those of you who left comments concerned about how I was.  There were some family illnesses, and then a visit from Hurricane Irma.  (Who, thankfully, wasn’t as bad as we were expecting.  Matthew last year was much worse.)

Today Mr. Blow asks a rather silly question:  “Is Mr. Trump a White Supremacist?”  He is struggling with accounting for Trump and those who surround him.  Charles, by their fruits ye shall know them.  Prof. Krugman say “Complacency Could Kill Health Care,” and that Graham-Cassidy is the Donald Trump of health reform.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

That was only one in a string a tweets on Sept. 11 by ESPN host Jemele Hill in which Hill goes on to say that Trump is “the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime,” that he hired and courted white supremacists, that “His rise is a direct result of white supremacy,” that “if he were not white, he never would have been elected.” Hill insinuates that the Republican Party “has done nothing but endorse/promote white supremacy.”

These tweets caused quite a stir. The White House perpetual lie-generator and press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that it was a fireable offense for ESPN. Sanders’s statement, of course, was not without its own controversy. As AOL reported:

“The Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump Super PAC, has filed an ethics complaint against White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with the Office of Government Ethics for her comments calling on ESPN host Jemele Hill to be fired.”

AOL continued:

“The group claims federal law prohibits government employees from influencing ‘a private entity’s employment … solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation.’”

Then on Friday, Trump himself weighed in, because obviously there are no more pressing matters that need his attention, oh like, say, North Korea continuing to launch missiles over Japan, for one.

Trump tweeted:

“ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”

This tweet, for me, changed the conversation. It moved the discussion from propriety and in-house rules of conduct by a brand, to a question of veracity. Was what Hill said untrue, as Trump’s tweet suggests, or is Trump in fact a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with white supremacists and whose party courted white supremacists?

Two of those points can be quickly put to rest. First, there is no question that Trump has hired someone who was at least a booster of white supremacists: Steve Bannon. In a sinister act of double signaling, Bannon was hired as the Trump campaign’s chief executive on the same day that Trump started his fake outreach to black voters in Milwaukee.

Also, while the Republican Party clearly stands for more than white supremacy and the promotion of that intellectually fallacious concept, the party has often turned a blind eye to the racists in its midst and done far too little to extricate them.

But then the question remains: Is Trump himself a white supremacist?

This question is almost unanswerable in the absolute, but there is mounting circumstantial evidence pointing in a most disquieting direction.

First, we must submit that Trump is not particularly discerning in the administration of his insults. As The New York Times’s Upshot pointed out in July, “Trump is on track to insult 650 people, places and things on Twitter by the end of his first term.” He is often reflexive with his derisions, attacking those who criticize or condemn him. Many of Trump’s lackeys laud his instinct to counterpunch. When Trump attacked MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, Huckabee Sanders explained, “When the president gets hit, he’s going to hit back harder.”

They paint it as strength, although it is clearly weakness. It is a masking of fragility with aggression. And the traditionally marginalized — women, racial, religious and ethnic minorities — are treated to a particularly personal strain of Trump’s venom. In Trump’s eyes, Barack Obama wasn’t simply a bad president, he was illegitimate and inferior, a person who couldn’t possibly be as talented as the world thought he was. He questioned whether Obama had actually attended his prestigious colleges and insisted that Obama’s memoir was too well-written for him to have written it, that it must have been written by a white man.

Is Trump patriarchal and misogynistic? Definitely. But, what of white supremacy?

It is clear that Trump is hero among white supremacists: He panders to them, he is slow to condemn them and when that condemnation manifests, it is often forced and tepid. Trump never seems to be worried about offending anyone except Vladimir Putin and white supremacists.

What does that say about him? How can you take comfort among and make common cause with white supremacists and not assimilate to their sensibilities?

I say that it can’t be done. If you are not completely opposed to white supremacy, you are quietly supporting it. If you continue to draw equivalencies between white supremacists and the people who oppose them — as Trump did once again last week — you have crossed the racial Rubicon and moved beyond quiet support to vocal support. You have made an allegiance and dug a trench in the war of racial hostilities.

Hill may have pushed into the realm of hyperbole with a few of her statements — it was Twitter after all — but I judge the spirit of her assessment to be true.

Either Trump is himself a white supremacist or he is a fan and defender of white supremacists, and I quite honestly am unable to separate the two designations.

That’s because they’re exactly the same thing.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

I haven’t yet read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” but it seems pretty clear to me what did, in fact, happen in 2016.

These days, America starts from a baseline of extreme tribalism: 47 or 48 percent of the electorate will vote for any Republican, no matter how terrible, and against any Democrat, no matter how good. This means, in turn, that small things — journalists acting like mean kids in high school, ganging up on candidates they consider uncool, events that suggest fresh scandal even when there’s nothing there — can tip the balance in favor of even the worst candidate imaginable.

And, crucially, last year far too many people were complacent; they assumed that Trump couldn’t possibly become president, so they felt free to engage in trivial pursuits. Then they woke up to find that the inconceivable had happened.

Is something similar about to go down with health care?

Republican attempts to destroy Obamacare have repeatedly failed, and for very good reason. Their attacks on the Affordable Care Act were always based on lies, and they have never come up with a decent alternative.

The simple fact is that all the major elements of the A.C.A. — prohibiting discrimination by insurers based on medical history, requiring that people buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion that make insurance affordable even for those with lower incomes — are there because they’re necessary. Yet every plan Republicans have offered would do away with or undermine those key elements, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance, with the heaviest burden falling on the most vulnerable.

All this should be clear to everyone by now. So you might be tempted to assume that no plan along these lines can possibly pass, let alone one that, if anything, looks worse than what we’ve seen so far. But it’s precisely because so many people assume that the threat is behind us, and have turned their attention elsewhere, that health care is once again in danger.

The sponsors of the Graham-Cassidy bill now working its way toward a Senate vote claim to be offering a moderate approach that preserves the good things about Obamacare. In other words, they are maintaining the G.O.P. norm of lying both about the content of Obamacare and about what would replace it.

In reality, Graham-Cassidy is the opposite of moderate. It contains, in exaggerated and almost caricature form, all the elements that made previous Republican proposals so cruel and destructive. It would eliminate the individual mandate, undermine if not effectively eliminate protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and slash funding for subsidies and Medicaid. There are a few additional twists, but they’re all bad — notably, a funding formula that would penalize states that are actually successful in reducing the number of uninsured.

Did this bill’s sponsors — Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Ron Johnson and Dean Heller — manage to get through months of health care debate without learning anything about the issue? Maybe. But surely the rest of the Senate, not to mention much of the public, has wised up about false Republican promises. A huge majority of voters, almost two to one, consider it a good thing that previous attempts at repealing and replacing Obamacare failed.

Yet there is a real chance that Graham-Cassidy, which is similar to but even worse than previous Republican proposals, will nonetheless become law, because not enough people are taking it seriously.

As in the presidential election, we start from a baseline of extreme tribalism, in which 48 or 49 Republican senators will vote for anything, no matter how awful, that bears their party’s seal of approval. To make a bill the law, its sponsors only need to win one or two more votes.

The main reason Republican leaders couldn’t do that on previous health bills was public outrage and activism. Letters and phone calls, demonstrators and crowds at town halls, made it clear that many Americans were aware of the stakes, and that politicians who voted to take health care away from millions would be held accountable.

Now, however, the news cycle has moved on, taking public attention with it. Many progressives have already begun taking Obamacare’s achievements for granted, and are moving on from protest against right-wing schemes to dreams of single-payer. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of environment in which swing senators, no longer in the spotlight, might be bribed or bullied into voting for a truly terrible bill.

The good news is that for technical reasons of parliamentary procedure, Graham-Cassidy has to pass by the end of this month, or not at all. The bad news is that such passage is a real possibility.

So if you care about preserving the huge gains the A.C.A. has brought, make your voice heard. Otherwise we may wake up to another terrible morning after.

Krugman, solo

August 28, 2017

Prof. Krugman asks a question in “Fascism, American Style:”  How many Republicans will refuse to collaborate?  Probably NOT,K.  Here he is:

As sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., Joe Arpaio engaged in blatant racial discrimination. His officers systematically targeted Latinos, often arresting them on spurious charges and at least sometimes beating them up when they questioned those charges. Read the report from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and prepare to be horrified.

Once Latinos were arrested, bad things happened to them. Many were sent to Tent City, which Arpaio himself proudly called a “concentration camp,” where they lived under brutal conditions, with temperatures inside the tents sometimes rising to 145 degrees.

And when he received court orders to stop these practices, he simply ignored them, which led to his eventual conviction — after decades in office — for contempt of court. But he had friends in high places, indeed in the highest of places. We now know that Donald Trump tried to get the Justice Department to drop the case against Arpaio, a clear case of attempted obstruction of justice. And when that ploy failed, Trump, who had already suggested that Arpaio was “convicted for doing his job,” pardoned him.

By the way, about “doing his job,” it turns out that Arpaio’s officers were too busy rounding up brown-skinned people and investigating President Barack Obama’s birth certificate to do other things, like investigate cases of sexually abused children. Priorities!

Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.

So how did we get to this point?

Trump’s motives are easy to understand. For one thing, Arpaio, with his racism and authoritarianism, really is his kind of guy. For another, the pardon is a signal to those who might be tempted to make deals with the special investigator as the Russia probe closes in on the White House: Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.

Finally, standing up for white people who keep brown people down pleases Trump’s base, whom he’s going to need more than ever as the scandals creep closer and the big policy wins he promised keep not happening.

But the Trump base of angry white voters is a distinct minority in the country as a whole. Furthermore, those voters have always been there. Fifteen years ago, writing about the radicalization of the G.O.P., I suggested the hard core of angry voters was around 20 percent of the electorate; that still seems like a reasonable guess.

What makes it possible for someone like Trump to attain power and hold it is the acquiescence of people, both voters and politicians, who aren’t white supremacists, who sort-of kind-of believe in the rule of law, but are willing to go along with racists and lawbreakers if it seems to serve their interests.

There have been endless reports about the low-education white voters who went overwhelmingly for Trump last November. But he wouldn’t have made it over the top without millions of votes from well-educated Republicans who — despite the media’s orgy of false equivalence or worse (emails!) — had no excuse for not realizing what kind of man he was. For whatever reason, be it political tribalism or the desire for lower taxes, they voted for him anyway.

Given the powers we grant to the president, who in some ways is almost like an elected dictator, giving the office to someone likely to abuse that power invites catastrophe. The only real check comes from Congress, which retains the power to impeach; even the potential for impeachment can constrain a bad president. But Republicans control Congress; how many of them besides John McCain have offered full-throated denunciations of the Arpaio pardon?

The answer is, very few. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, had a spokesman declare that he “does not agree with this decision” — not exactly a ringing statement. Yet Ryan did better than most of his colleagues, who have said nothing at all.

This bodes ill if, as seems all too likely, the Arpaio pardon is only the beginning: We may well be in the early stages of a constitutional crisis. Does anyone consider it unthinkable that Trump will fire Robert Mueller, and try to shut down investigations into his personal and political links to Russia? Does anyone have confidence that Republicans in Congress will do anything more than express mild disagreement with his actions if he does?

As I said, there’s a word for people who round up members of ethnic minorities and send them to concentration camps, or praise such actions. There’s also a word for people who, out of cowardice or self-interest, go along with such abuses: collaborators. How many such collaborators will there be? I’m afraid we’ll soon find out.

Better learn now how to goose-step.

Bobo and Krugman

August 25, 2017

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “This American Land.”  He gurgles that the nation’s identity has been shaped by nature, by how our wilderness molds, inspires and binds us.  Of course, Mein Fubar and his merry gang are trying their damndest to do away with them…  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Prof. Krugman gets to the heart of the matter in “Trump and Pruitt, Making America Polluted Again,” where he says their environmental legacy will literally be toxic.  Here’s Bobo:

We’re living in the middle of a national crisis of solidarity — rising racial bitterness, pervasive distrust, political dysfunction. So what are the resources we can use to pull ourselves together? What can we draw upon to tell a better American story than the one Donald Trump tells, one that will unite us instead of divide us, and yield hopeful answers instead of selfish ones?

One resource is the land. Throughout our history, the American identity has been shaped by nature, by how our wilderness molds, inspires and binds us. Up until now, most U.S. presidents have somehow been connected to nature. Washington surveyed, T.R. hunted, Reagan and Bush cleared brush. Trump is unusual in that he seems untouched by wilderness, by the awe and humility that comes from the encounter with nature. He only drives around golf courses, which, though sometimes lovely, are dominated, artificial forms of nature.

From the nation’s founding, Americans had a sense that their continent’s vast and beautiful abundance gave their nation a unifying destiny and mission. The land made them feel apart from Europe — their manners simpler, their admiration for practical work more fervent and their ambitions more epic:

“A European, when he first arrives, seems limited in his intentions as well as in his views,” Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur wrote, “but he very suddenly alters his scale; two hundred miles formerly appeared a very great distance, it is now but a trifle. He no sooner breathes our air than he forms schemes and embarks on designs he never would have thought of in his own country.”

The abundance mentality did not lead to decadence, but to optimism, a sense that there was room for all to spread out. It nurtured a future-minded mentality — seeing the present from the vantage point of the future.

“It requires but a small portion of the gift of discernment for anyone to foresee that providence will erect a mighty empire in America,” Samuel Adams wrote, at a time when America was 13 scraggly colonies hugging one coast. This job, constructing a new order for the ages, gave generations of Americans a sense of purpose, something to devote their lives to.

The biggest thing nature did was offer ideals. Different Americans came up with different character types for how to engage with nature. Each type offered a model for how to live an admirable life.

According to one type, character was forged by tilling the land; according to another it was forged by being tested by the land; and in another it was formed by being cleansed by the land. These types wove together to form the American mythos.

The first ideal was the Steward. This is the small yeoman farmer and craftsman who lives close to the soil — self-reliant, upright, humble before creation and bonded to his local community.

“The name of our proper connection to the earth is ‘good work,’” Wendell Berry wrote, “for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled.”

The second ideal was the Pioneer. This is the person who pushes against the wilderness and develops skill, courage and virility. This is the daring innovator who ushers progress by venturing to the edge of the known.

“Life consists with wildness,” Thoreau decreed. “The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. One who pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors, who grew fast and made infinite demands on life, would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw material of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest-trees.”

The third ideal was the Elevated Spirit. This is the person who slips off the conformist materialism of commercial society and is both purified and enlarged by nature’s grandeur. This is John Muir in Yosemite, Ansel Adams in the Grand Canyon.

Such an awakened soul often comes back singing with Walt Whitman, filled with electric love for the enlarged individual, celebrating the infinite variety of life, feeling part of an endless and ancient web of connections: “I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the rivers of America,/and along the shores of the great lakes, and all over the prairies,/I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each other’s necks,/By the love of comrades.”

These days I often ask people what percentage of our nation’s problems can be solved through policy and politics. Most people say that most of America’s problems are pre-political. What’s needed is a revival of values, fraternity and a binding American story.

I don’t know all the ways that revival of spirit can come about, but even in the age of the driverless car and Reddit, I suspect some of the answers are to be found in reconnecting with our ancient ideals and reconnecting with the land.

Sweet Mother of God, what drivel.  Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“Imagine Donald Trump hiking in the Grand Tetons or on the Appalachian Trail…or swimming in the ocean on Cape Cod or in a country lake….or riding an Iowa farm tractor or standing side-by-side with this country’s Latino farm workers picking the nation’s crops for market.

Impossible on all counts.

Not only does Donald Trump have no connection to American ideals, he has no connection to American land, water or air…..except for land soiled by one of his golden skyscrapers or putting greens or a Confederate monument, water enriched with deregulated pollution, and sky with a HUGE Trump jet stuck in the middle of it.

Trump and his Environmental Pollution Agency will ‘connect’ with America’s land by drilling into it, bulldozing it, mining it, burning it and letting the waste flow downstream and out the industrial chimney of unfettered greed.

Instead of farming our great land with solar farms, wind farms, geothermal farms, tidal farms and alternative energy farms and jobs like a modern visionary, Donald Trump is soiling it with filthy 19th century coal.

Just the other day, Trump and Scott Pruitt ordered National Academy of Sciences researchers to stop work on an independent evaluation of health effects from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Nature has no meaning to America’s 300-alarm Presidential fire.

It’s all one big Trump Toilet to our Polluter-In-Chief.

Mother Earth is all we have, and all our Assaulter-In-Chief wants to do is grab her by the pudendum.”

Next up we have Prof. Krugman, who needs to sit Bobo down and, using very simple words, explain to him why he is such an ass:

Efforts to kill Obamacare have failed, at least for now. Tax “reform” — which really means big tax cuts for the rich — faces doubtful prospects. Indeed, these prospects may have become even more doubtful thanks to Louise Linton, wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: Her now infamous Instagram rant may open at least a few voters’ eyes to the contempt “populist” Donald Trump’s inner circle really feels for the little people.

So many observers are asking whether Trump can restart his stalled agenda. But that turns out to be a bad question, in a couple of ways.

First, Trump doesn’t really have an agenda beyond “winning.” He has instincts and prejudices, but no interest in the details, or even the broad outlines, of policy. For example, it’s obvious that he never had any idea what was in his own party’s health care plan. And he has definitely shown no interest in turning his populist rhetoric into anything concrete.

As a result, whatever personal feuds Trump may have with the Republican establishment, that establishment — the same interest groups and ideologues who’ve been driving G.O.P. positions for decades — is setting his administration’s policy agenda.

Which brings me to my second point: While the legislative agenda does indeed appear stalled, a lot of what those interest groups want doesn’t require legislation, and is anything but stalled. This is especially true for environmental policy, where decisions about how to interpret and enforce laws already on the books can have a huge impact.

So Trump’s true legacy may well be defined not by the laws he does or more likely doesn’t pass, but by his decision to put Scott Pruitt in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt effectively acted as a servant, not of the public, but of polluting industries. That’s not an accusation; it’s confirmed by his own email trail.

Now, at a time when much of the Trump administration seems paralyzed by lack of leadership and key personnel, Pruitt is firing on all cylinders — but not because he’s making the E.P.A. more effective. On the contrary, he’s engaged in sabotage from the top, moving quickly to undermine his own agency’s mission — not just its efforts against climate change, but its role in protecting the environment across the board.

Trump won’t make America great again, but Pruitt, who clearly has Trump’s full backing, can do a lot to make it polluted again.

This is an unpopular agenda, or it would be if people knew about it.

The improvement in air and water quality since the E.P.A. was founded in 1970 is one of America’s great policy success stories. It’s also largely unsung.

When Donald Trump was young, New York’s air was filthy, and killer smogs sometimes killed hundreds; meanwhile, New York’s own governor described the Hudson as “one great septic tank.” But Trump probably doesn’t remember that or realize that regulation made the difference, and neither do many voters.

True, that could change quickly if people realized that the relatively clean air and water they take for granted was being put at risk. Think of how support for the Affordable Care Act surged once people realized that coverage for millions might really be taken away. There would be a similar but even bigger surge in support for environmental protection if, say, Republicans tried to repeal the Clean Water Act.

As I said, however, Pruitt can do a lot of harm without changing the law. He can, for example, reverse the ban on a pesticide that the E.P.A.’s own scientists say may damage children’s nervous systems. Or he can move to scrap a rule that would limit heavy-metal contamination from power-plant wastewater.

And he can cripple enforcement of the rules he doesn’t undo simply by working with Trump to starve his own agency of personnel and funds. The Trump budget released in May won’t actually become law, but it was an indication of priorities — and it called for cutting funding for the E.P.A. by 31 percent, more than any other agency.

Individually, no one of these actions is likely to be treated as front-page news, especially given everything else going on. Cumulatively, however, they will kill or cripple large numbers of Americans — for that is what pollution does, even if the damage is gradual and sometimes invisible.

By the way, if you’re wondering whether an anti-environmental agenda will at least be good for job creation, the answer is no, it won’t. Coal jobs, in particular, aren’t coming back no matter how much leeway we give corporations to blow the tops off mountains and dump toxins in waterways. This agenda will, however, be worth billions to certain campaign donors.

So don’t say that the administration’s agenda is stalled. Some parts are, but other parts are moving right along. When it comes to environmental policy, Trump will definitely change America — and his legacy will literally be toxic.

And once again I’m glad that I’m A Old and won’t have to choke on the air.

Krugman’s blog, 8/20/17

August 21, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “The Political Failure of Trickle-Down Economics:”

Tomorrow’s column is in part about the political failure of Trumpcare, which was — despite all those populist noises during the campaign — a case of trickle-down economics on steroids: huge benefit cuts for lower- and middle-income families, to provide huge tax cuts for a tiny minority.

But was that failure really so exceptional?

We tend to think of the period since Reagan’s election as a conservative era; even though Republicans controlled the White House only a few years more than Democrats, there were lots of centrist Dems willing to cooperate with R agendas, versus almost no cooperation when Ds held the WH. And one tends to think of the period as a whole as involving tax-and-transfer policy tilting to the right.

Yet that’s not something that jumps out from the numbers. Think about taxes on the top 1%. Yes, Reagan and GW Bush cut them; but both Clinton and Obama raised them. The CBO estimates have some funny fluctuations, driven I think by capital gains: big capital gains raise tax receipts without a corresponding rise in measured income, as I understand it. Still, the overall picture is that at the end of the Obama years taxation of the rich was pretty much back where it was pre-Reagan:

Meanwhile, there were harsh cuts to some social programs — Clinton ended welfare as we knew it — but expansions of others. One simple metric: Medicaid enrollees as a percent of the nonelderly population, via the CDC:

I’m not saying that the “nation of takers” stuff, a vast population living off the dole and voting to tax their betters, is at all right. But it is true that a welfare state supported by progressive taxation has been much more robust than the year-by-year political narrative might lead you to think.

But in that case, why the incredible surge in inequality? Good question, and not that easy to answer. But there is, I think, a good case to be made that things like the collapse of unions and financial deregulation mattered a lot more than the taxing and spending issues we spend so much time talking about.

 

Blow and Krugman

August 21, 2017

Mr. Blow points out the obvious in “Failing All Tests of the Presidency.”  He tells us, as if we needed reminding, that there are no good Nazis.  Prof. Krugman asks “What Will Trump Do to American Workers?”  He says we should pay less attention to taxing and spending, more to power.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

We are leaderless. America doesn’t have a president. America has a man in the White House holding the spot, and wreaking havoc as he waits for the day when a real president arrives to replace him.

Donald Trump is many things — most of them despicable — but the leader of a nation he is not. He is not a great man. Hell, he isn’t even a good man.

Donald Trump is a man of flawed character and a moral cavity. He cannot offer moral guidance because he has no moral compass. He is too small to see over his inflated ego.

Trump has personalized the presidency in unprecedented ways — making every battle and every war about his personal feelings. Did the person across the street or around the world say good or bad things about him? Does the media treat him fairly? Is someone in his coterie of corruption outshining him or casting negative light on him?

His interests center on the self; country be damned.

What some have always known about Trump, others are slowly coming to realize, and with great shock and horror. The presidency is revealing the essence of the man and that essence is dark.

What America saw clearly in Trump’s disastrous handling of the violence in Charlottesville was a Nazi/white nationalist apologist if not sympathizer, a reactionary rage-aholic, a liar, and a person who has absolutely no sense or understanding of history.

By claiming that there were some “very fine people” among the extremists marching in Charlottesville, the president made a profound declaration: The accommodation of racists is his creed.

As Susan Bro, whose daughter, Heather Heyer, was killed in Charlottesville, said last week, “You can’t wash this one away by shaking my hand and saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ ” Heather Heyer was killed when James Alex Fields Jr. used a speeding car to mow down a crowd of protesters who had gathered to rebuke the Nazis and white nationalists.

According to The Chicago Tribune, one of Fields’s high school teachers said he once “wrote a three-page homework paper that extolled Nazi ideology and the prowess of the Führer’s armed forces,” and that even before then, the teacher said, “he had been well aware of Fields’s racist and anti-Semitic beliefs from private discussions he had with Fields during his junior year.”

And even worse, The Tribune reported:

“At least four times when the boy was in the eighth and ninth grades, Florence police were summoned to his home, mostly by his frantic mother, Samantha Bloom, an I.T. specialist. It was just the two of them living together, and young James, among other incidents, was reported to have spat in her face, smacked her head with a phone and frightened her with a foot-long knife, according to records of the 911 calls. Neighbors, in interviews, similarly described a troubled youth who treated his mother cruelly.”

This was no fine person, and no person who walked shoulder-to-shoulder with him is a fine person. There are no good Nazis. There are no good white nationalist accommodators. There are no good people who see racists and don’t want to retch.

But somehow, the person we now call “president” saw what happened in Charlottesville, saw that a car had been used to kill Heyer, and still found it appropriate to say that there were bad people on “both sides.”

He cleaned that up in a teleprompter speech, but the next day returned to the defense of the indefensible, this time with even more verve and venom.

He apparently felt that the media had unfairly condemned him for his original remarks and he was going to be the counterpuncher and strike back at the media. Again, it was all about him, not us. But when he lashed out at the media, the cameras were rolling. There were no prepared remarks. There was no teleprompter. Trump stood exposed and in the raw, the deepest, truest thoughts of his soul erupting from his face, and what came out were bitterness and bile.

He was not there to heal the nation or to uplift it. He was there for personal exoneration and redemption. He wasn’t there to plead the case that America could rise on the wings of its better angels. He was there to defend the demons.

But, when one attempts to do a thing that can’t be done — that shouldn’t be done — one must employ the tools of deception: obfuscation, revisionism and flat-out lying.

Trump said that he had not initially condemned both sides because he wanted to wait to get all the facts, because that’s what he likes to do.

Lies.

On Saturday, when tens of thousands of protesters turned out to counter a small group of radical racists, Trump’s first response was to tweet: “Looks like many anti-police agitators in Boston. Police are looking tough and smart! Thank you.”

This man doesn’t wait for facts. This man doesn’t care about facts, or much else for that matter. He only cares about himself, his image and his positioning.

America is functioning, barely, without a functioning president. Trump is failing every test of the office. How frightening is that?

Terrifying, Mr. Blow, terrifying.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

With Steve Bannon out of the White House, it’s clearer than ever that Donald Trump’s promise to be a populist fighting for ordinary workers was worth about as much as any other Trump promise — that is, nothing. His agenda, such as it is, amounts to reverse Robin Hood with extra racism — the conventional Republican strategy of taking from struggling families to give to the rich, while distracting lower-income whites by attacking Those People, with the only difference being just how blatantly he plays the race card.

At first sight, however, the Trump version of this strategy doesn’t seem to be going very well. The attempt to repeal Obamacare was almost a caricature of trickle-down policy — take health coverage away from 20-plus million Americans while cutting taxes on a handful of wealthy individuals. But it was massively unpopular, and appears to have failed in Congress.

The next item on the agenda, tax “reform,” may not fare much better. I use scare quotes because a true reform, reducing some tax rates but making up for the lost revenue by closing loopholes, was never going to happen. Straight-out tax cuts, which benefit corporations and the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, might still go through, but even that looks doubtful.

So is the Trump agenda dead? Not necessarily, because trickle-down has never been the whole story of the Republican assault on workers. Or to put it another way: Don’t just watch Congress, keep your eyes on what federal agencies are doing.

When you step back and take the long view on trickle-down policies, what you realize is that Trump’s legislative failure is more the rule than the exception. The election of Ronald Reagan was supposed to have set America on a path toward lower taxes and smaller government — and it did, for a while. But those changes have largely been reversed.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, back in 1980 the top 1 percent paid 33 percent of its income in federal taxes. Under Reagan, that share briefly fell below 25 percent. But as of 2013, the most recent year covered, Obama’s tax hikes had brought federal taxes on the 1 percent back up to 34 percent of income.

What about safety net programs? Some were savagely cut — but others have grown, a lot. Take Medicaid, which in 1980 covered only 7 percent of nonelderly Americans. Today that number is up to 21 percent.

Looking only at taxing and spending, then, one might conclude that the conservative economic agenda has largely failed. But here’s the thing: While the rich still pay taxes and the safety net has in some ways gotten stronger, the decades since Reagan have nonetheless been marked by vastly increased inequality, with stagnating wages for most, but soaring incomes for a tiny elite. How did that happen?

Yes, globalization probably played some role, as did technology. But other wealthy countries, just as exposed to the winds of global change, haven’t seen anything like America’s headlong rush into a new Gilded Age. To understand what happened to us, and in particular to American workers, you need to look at policy — and especially the kind of policy that often flies under the media’s radar.

Take one example, covered a few months ago in a striking Times essay: the decline in the fortunes of truck drivers, whose pay used to make them members of the middle class. No more: Their real wages have fallen about a third since the 1970s, with most of the decline taking place during the Reagan years.

Now, globalization and technology haven’t destroyed trucking jobs; on the contrary, the industry is facing a labor shortage. What happened to truckers was, basically, the collapse of their bargaining power due in part to a changed ideological climate — not least at the National Labor Relations Board — that encouraged private employers to fight unionization, and in part to deregulation that undercut the position of unionized firms.

Take another example, at the opposite end of the spectrum: Does anyone doubt that financial deregulation played an important role in surging incomes at the very top of the income distribution?

Which brings us back to Trump and the effect he’ll have on America’s working class. Right now it looks as if he may have much less impact on taxing and spending than most people expected. But other policies, often made administratively by federal agencies rather than via legislation, can matter a lot.

True, Trump failed in his attempt to appoint a deeply anti-labor fast-food executive to head the Department of Labor. But the fact that he even tried to appoint Andrew Puzder tells you a great deal.

The point is that progressives shouldn’t celebrate too much over Trump’s legislative failures. As long as he’s in office, he retains a lot of power to betray the working people who supported him. And in case you haven’t noticed, betraying those who trust him is a Trump specialty.

Krugman, solo

August 18, 2017

In “Trump Makes Caligula Look Pretty Good” Prof. Krugman says unlike the senators of ancient Rome, the Republican Congress won’t deal with a rogue leader.  Here he is:

Even before the media obsession with Hillary Clinton’s email server put The Worst President Ever™ in the White House, historians were comparing Donald Trump to Caligula, the cruel, depraved Roman emperor who delighted in humiliating others, especially members of the empire’s elite. But seven months into the Trump administration, we can see that this comparison was unfair.

For one thing, Caligula did not, as far as we know, foment ethnic violence within the empire. For another, again as far as we know, Rome’s government continued to function reasonably well despite his antics: Provincial governors continued to maintain order, the army continued to defend the borders, there were no economic crises.

Finally, when his behavior became truly intolerable, Rome’s elite did what the party now controlling Congress seems unable even to contemplate: It found a way to get rid of him.

Anyone with eyes — eyes not glued to Fox News, anyway — has long realized that Trump is utterly incapable, morally and intellectually, of filling the office he holds. But in the past few days things seem to have reached a critical mass.

Journalists have stopped seizing on brief moments of not-craziness to declare Trump “presidential”; business leaders have stopped trying to curry favor by lending Trump an air of respectability; even military leaders have gone as far as they can to dissociate themselves from administration pronouncements.

Put it this way: “Not my president” used to sound like an extreme slogan. Now it has more or less become the operating principle for key parts of the U.S. system.

Despite this, it may seem on the surface as if the republic is continuing to function normally. We’re still adding jobs; stocks are up; public services continue to be delivered.

But remember, this administration has yet to confront a crisis not of its own making. Furthermore, a series of scary deadlines are looming. Never mind tax reform. Congress has to act within the next few weeks to enact a budget, or the government will shut down; to raise the debt ceiling, or the U.S. will go into default; to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or millions of children will lose coverage.

So who’s going to ensure that these critical deadlines are met? Not Trump, who’s too busy praising white supremacists and promoting his businesses. Maybe Republican leaders in Congress will still be able to wrangle their extremist members, who see crippling the government as a good thing, into the necessary deals.

But the revelation that these leaders were lying about health care all those years has destroyed their intellectual credibility — remember when people took Paul Ryan’s pretense of policy expertise seriously? And their association with President Caligula has destroyed their moral credibility, too. They could keep the government functioning by dealing with Democrats, but they’re afraid to do that, for the same reason they’re afraid to confront the madman in the White House.

For here’s the situation: Everyone in Washington now knows that we have a president who never meant it when he swore to defend the Constitution. He violates that oath just about every day and is never going to get any better.

The good news is that the founding fathers contemplated that possibility and offered a constitutional remedy: Unlike the senators of ancient Rome, who had to conspire with the Praetorian Guard to get Caligula assassinated, the U.S. Congress has the ability to remove a rogue president.

But a third of the country still approves of that rogue president — and that third amounts to a huge majority of the G.O.P. base. So all we get from the vast majority of elected Republicans are off-the-record expressions of “dismay” or denunciations of bigotry that somehow fail to name the bigot in chief.

It’s not just that Republicans fear primary challenges from candidates pandering to the racist right, although they do; Trump is already supporting challengers to Republicans he considers insufficiently loyal.

The fact is that white supremacists have long been a key if unacknowledged part of the G.O.P. coalition, and Republicans need those votes to win general elections. Given the profiles in cowardice they’ve presented so far, it’s hard to imagine anything — up to and including evidence of collusion with a foreign power — that would make them risk losing those voters’ support.

So the odds are that we’re stuck with a malevolent, incompetent president whom nobody knowledgeable respects, and many consider illegitimate. If so, we have to hope that our country somehow stumbles through the next year and a half without catastrophe, and that the midterm elections transform the political calculus and make the Constitution great again.

If that doesn’t happen, all one can say is God save America. Because all indications are that the Republicans won’t.

Krugman, solo

August 14, 2017

Mr. Blow is off today.  In “When the President Is Un-American” Prof. Krugman says Trumpism is a betrayal of our national identity.  Here he is:

Remember back in 2008, when Sarah Palin used to talk about the “real America”? She meant rural and small-town residents — white residents, it went without saying — who supposedly embodied the nation’s true essence.

She was harshly condemned for those remarks, and rightly so — and not just because the real, real America is a multiracial, multicultural land of great metropolitan areas as well as small towns. More fundamentally, what makes America America is that it is built around an idea: the idea that all men are created equal, and are entitled to basic human rights. Take away that idea and we’re just a giant version of a two-bit autocracy.

And maybe that is what we have, in fact, become. For Donald Trump’s refusal to condemn the murderous white supremacists in Charlottesville finally confirms what has become increasingly obvious: The current president of the United States isn’t a real American.

Real Americans understand that our nation is built around values, not the “blood and soil” of the marchers’ chants; what makes you an American is your attempt to live up to those values, not the place or race your ancestors came from. And when we fall short in our effort to live up to our ideals, as we all too often do, at least we realize and acknowledge our failure.

But the man who began his political ascent by falsely questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth — a blood-and-soil argument if ever there was one — clearly cares nothing about the openness and inclusiveness that have always been essential parts of who we are as a nation.

Real Americans understand that our nation was born in a rebellion against tyranny. They feel an instinctive aversion to tyrants everywhere, and an underlying sympathy for democratic regimes, even those with whom we may currently have disputes.

But the present occupant of the White House has made no secret of preferring the company, not of democratic leaders, but of authoritarian rulers — not just Vladimir Putin, but people like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Rodrigo Duterte, the homicidal leader of the Philippines. When Trump visited Saudi Arabia, his commerce secretary exulted in the absence of hostile demonstrations, an absence ensured by the repressiveness of the regime.

Real Americans expect public officials to be humbled by the responsibility that comes with the job. They’re not supposed to be boastful blowhards, constantly claiming credit for things they haven’t done — like Trump bragging about job creation that has continued at more or less the same pace as under his predecessor — or which never even happened, like his mythical victory in the popular vote.

Real Americans understand that being a powerful public figure means facing criticism. That comes with the job, and you’re supposed to tolerate that criticism even if you feel it’s unfair. Foreign autocrats may rage against unflattering news reports, threaten to inflict financial harm on publications they dislike, talk about imprisoning journalists; American leaders aren’t supposed to sound like that.

Finally, real Americans who manage to achieve high office realize that they are servants of the people, meant to use their position for the public good. In practice, human nature being what it is, many officials have in fact taken financial advantage of their office. But we’ve always understood that this was wrong — and presidents, in particular, are supposed to be above such things. Now we have a leader who is transparently exploiting his office for personal enrichment, in ways that all too obviously amount in practice to influence-buying by domestic malefactors and foreign governments alike.

In short, these days we have a president who is really, truly, deeply un-American, someone who doesn’t share the values and ideals that made this country special.

In fact, he’s so deeply alienated from the American idea that he can’t even bring himself to fake it. We all know that Trump feels comfortable with white supremacists, but it’s amazing that he won’t even give them a light tap on the wrist. We all know that Putin is Trump’s kind of guy, but it’s remarkable that Trump won’t even pretend to be outraged at Putin’s meddling with our election.

Speaking of which: I have no more idea than anyone else what Robert Mueller’s probe into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, questionable financial ties, possible obstruction of justice and more will find. Trump is acting very much like someone with something big to hide, but we don’t yet know exactly what that something is.

Whatever role foreign influence may have played and may still be playing, however, we don’t need to wonder whether an anti-American cabal, hostile to everything we stand for, determined to undermine everything that truly makes this country great, has seized power in Washington. It has: it’s called the Trump administration.