Friday, May 25, 2018

What Should Be Done About Trump's World Which Is Looking More Like Turkey?

David Brooks has not figured out what to do about Trump.  He, and many of his Republican friends are frustrated by Trump.  They don't like him but he, and other Trump bashers, are like puppets on strings controlled by Trump.  He argues that Trumpism is celebrity consuming governance.  Commentators like Brooks have tried to refute Trump by pointing out discrepancies between Trump's claims and the facts.  That has not worked because Trump is a marketer who is skilled at creating images.  It is hard to refute images with facts.  Many choose to believe in his images.  Consequently, Trump wins the game because he monopolizes attention.  If one of the goals of fascism is to monopolize attention, Brooks and others are playing a losing game in which refutation by illustrating Trumpian fallacies  does not work.

Brooks is probably right about how Trumpism works.  He seems to have given up.  Perhaps he should focus more attention on Trump's enablers in his favorite political party.  The best way to end Trumpism is to encourage his friends in Congress to do their jobs.  They believe that they can win elections and retain their jobs by supporting Trump.  They don't seem to understand that they are turning themselves into puppets in the process.  Trump will humiliate them with tweets whenever they attempt to do what they are supposed to do.  Some of them might decide to do what they were elected to do if Brooks and others help them to resist being turned into Trump enablers.  There is no middle ground in that war.  The only answer is to focus on his enablers in Congress and in the alt-right media.  Turkey has enabled an autocrat.  Turkey is now facing an economic crisis and it will find it very difficult to correct its course.  Good governance is primarily important during a crisis.  We are not Turkey, but weak governance in the US may lead to a crises that requires good governance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What's The Matter With Europe?

Paul Krugman provides his analysis of the economic and political problems in Europe.  The common currency, and the mistaken imposition of austerity by its leadership, were the primary economic problems.  It was held together, however, by a commitment to democracy by its elite.  That commitment is now withering away in Italy, Hungary and Poland.  Communism is no longer a threat to democracy in Europe but fascism may be its true passion.  Poland did not adopt the common currency and its economy escaped the damage created in many nations by common currency.  However, its democracy is being systematically replaced by an autocracy fueled by ethnocentrism.

The US economy has recovered from the financial crisis but Trump has been systematically attacking the institutions established by the Constitution to limit his power and authority.  He is being aided and abetted by the Republican Party which he has captured by assuming control over the far right base which is now the core of the radicalized party.  The radicalization of the Republican Party has been underway for decades.  The process was largely ignored by the central media which adopted a false equivalence policy towards our two major parties.  They are being rewarded now by Trump who has convinced his base that they provide "fake news".  They get their news from sources that might just as well be housed in the White House.  Krugman is not very positive about the outcome of this process.  The Republican Party has redefined conservatism.  It is closer to fascism than the form of conservatism that once defined the Republican Party.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Elections In India Are Clouded By Fake News From Social Media

WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.  This article describes how it has become the vehicle for distributing fake news during the election cycle in India.  Some argue that the social media provide an outlet for information that enhances democracy.  It provides an inexpensive way to distribute information that reduces the influence of the "mainstream media" in elections.  That is true, but the mainstream media are constrained by journalistic standards and laws that make it much harder to distribute false and misleading information.  We have not figured out how to prevent fake news from the social media from totally distorting democratic elections.  

David Brooks Is Trying Hard To Be Positive About America

David Brooks is a conservative who had been comfortable as a Republican until The Donald captured the Republican Party.  In this article he describes himself as an old fashioned Whig which had an ideology similar to his own.  He claims that the Whig ideology is alive and well at the local level, and he provides several examples in which local communities have been revived by citizens with a community spirit.  He does not believe that localities, acting alone, can restore our nation in the Whig tradition.  He suggests that we can arrest the decay that has been underway for several years by nationalizing the efforts that are underway at the local level in many parts of our nation.  I would like to believe that Brooks can inspire the hopefulness that he finds at the local level to the national level.  However, that is more easily said than done.  Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party was not an accident.  He exploited the divisions in America that had become the foundation of the Republican Party.  There may be some Whigs left in the GOP but most have been silent as the Trump base has been organized into a position of power within the party.  Trump spends most of his time trying to retain control of his base and positioning himself as their powerful leader.  We will have to see whether the Democratic Party can deal with the divisions within its party and win enough seats in the mid term elections to loosen Trump's control of the national government.  There are no Whigs running for election in 2018.  The Republican Party must be thrown out of power in order to contain Donald Trump.  They have been too willing to give Trump what he wants in order to retain whatever power they think they might have in a Party controlled by Trump.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Trump's "America First" Plan To Reduce Drug Costs Is Underwhelming

The Trumpster announced his plan to cut drug prices that brought cheers from drug companies which had been concerned that he might be serious about cutting drug prices and their profits.  Instead of doing what he promised on the campaign trail he bragged about changes that will have little impact on drug prices. Wall Street reacted to his announcement by bidding up drug industry stock prices by 2.7%.  Most importantly, he did not give Medicare the authority to use it use its purchasing power to negotiate directly with drug companies on drug prices as he had promised on the campaign trail.  Other nations typically do what Trump decided not to do.  They negotiate directly with drug companies to get lower prices than they charge US customers.  Trump's plan calls for a end to that practice.  He wants to raise the prices that they pay for the same drugs.  It is unlikely that they will oblige the Trumpster.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Donald Trump Gives Thanks To God In Jest

Dana Milbank provides us with the prayer that Donald Trump might have given at the National Prayer Meeting.  He decided to recite several of his tweets instead of saying much about prayers.  Milbank could have had a career as a comedy writer if he had not decided to become a journalist.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Our Place In The Universe Is Not Very Special But It May Be Understood

I posted this article which has nothing to do with economics, politics or with the behavior of our government that has declared a war on objectivity, when facts do not confirm the falsehoods of our president and his followers, because it describes an effort to demonstrate that the universe is understandable.  We may not be able to understand institutions and systems created by flawed human beings but we might be able to understand the universe.  I welcomed this distraction.

One of the things that we have learned about the universe is the concept of "cosmic inflation".  That is, the universe is growing so fast that there are regions of light that will never reach observers on earth.  Moreover, there may be multiple universes.  If the number of universes is infinite it may spell the end of science as it is understood by physicists.  The implication is that there are phenomena which can never be tested or directly observed.  This article reviews a paper by Steven Hawking which suggests that the number of universes may not be infinite.  Moreover, our universe remains special and is discoverable by scientific method.  It would be nice to believe that even if we don't understand our universe completely,  it is knowable and subject to scientific discovery.

After reading the article I stepped back from the problem of infinite universes, and the end of science, and reflected on the universe which we think we understand.  Our earth is in a galaxy that contains billions of stars like our sun.  Each of these stars has planets in orbit around them and some of them might have the conditions that make life as we know it possible.  Moreover, there are billions of galaxies like the Milky Way which also contain billions of stars.  This means that our planet and the forms of life on it are not unique.  There must be life elsewhere in the universe.  Our planet, and the wars that we have endured during our brief history, have often been about the gods which we have invented to reserve a special place for humans who follow their favorite god, or their favorite version of history and the institutions that we have created.  We lack the humility which physicists and most scientists have about our ability to understand what we don't know.  This gives me some respite from spending too much of my time trying to figure out how we can preserve some of the institutions that have worked better than others over time.  They will prevail despite the attacks against them that we see in Washington and elsewhere.