Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Kristof

August 28, 2014

Ms. Collins is off today.  In “Bill O’Reilly and White Privilege” Mr. Blow reminds us that we can’t expect equality of outcome while at the same time acknowledging inequality of environments.  Mr. Kristof has a question:  “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?”  He says recent events in Ferguson, Mo., have America talking about race, and that the conversation should include our unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Is white privilege real? Not according to Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

This week O’Reilly debated the issue of white privilege with a fellow host and then returned to the topic the next day with this doozy of a statement:

“Last night on ‘The Factor,’ Megyn Kelly and I debated the concept of white privilege whereby some believe that if you are Caucasian you have inherent advantages in America. ‘Talking Points’ does not, does not believe in white privilege. However, there is no question that African-Americans have a much harder time succeeding in our society than whites do.”

It is difficult to believe that those three sentences came in that order from the same mouth. Why would it be harder for blacks to succeed? Could interpersonal and, more important, systemic bias play a role? And, once one acknowledges the presence of bias as an impediment, one must by extension concede that being allowed to navigate the world without such biases is a form of privilege.

That privilege can be gendered, sexual identity based, religious and, yes, racial.

When one has the luxury of not being forced to compensate for societal oppression based on basic identity, one is in fact privileged in that society.

O’Reilly even trotted out the Asian “model minority” trope to buttress his argument, citing low unemployment rates and high levels of income and educational attainment for Asians compared not only to blacks but to whites.

Whenever people use racial differences as an argument to downplay racial discrimination, context is always called for.

What O’Reilly — like many others who use this line of logic — fails to mention (out of either ignorance or rhetorical sleight of hand) is the extent to which immigration policy has informed those statistics and the extent to which many Asian-Americans resent the stereotype as an oversimplification of the diversity of the Asian experience.

A 2012 Pew Research report entitled “The Rise of Asian Americans” found:

“Large-scale immigration from Asia did not take off until the passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Over the decades, this modern wave of immigrants from Asia has increasingly become more skilled and educated. Today, recent arrivals from Asia are nearly twice as likely as those who came three decades ago to have a college degree, and many go into high-paying fields such as science, engineering, medicine and finance. This evolution has been spurred by changes in U.S. immigration policies and labor markets; by political liberalization and economic growth in the sending countries; and by the forces of globalization in an ever-more digitally interconnected world.”

Following the publication of the Pew report, the news site Colorlines spoke with Dan Ichinose, director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center’s Demographic Research Project, who was critical of some parts of the Pew report, but seemed to echo the role immigration had played. Colorlines put his response this way:

“The more complex and far less exciting explanation for Asian Americans’ relatively high rates of education has more to do with immigration policy, which has driven selectivity about who gets to come to the U.S. and who doesn’t, said Ichinose.”

Much of the African-American immigration policy came in the form of centuries of bondage, dehumanization and unimaginable savagery visited on their bodies. And that legacy is long and the scars deep.

O’Reilly mentions this in his rant, as a caveat:

“One caveat, the Asian-American experience historically has not been nearly as tough as the African-American experience. Slavery is unique and it has harmed black Americans to a degree that is still being felt today, but in order to succeed in our competitive society, every American has to overcome the obstacles they face.”

But this whole juxtaposition, the pitting of one minority group against another, is just a way of distracting from the central question: Is white privilege real?

In arguing that itisn’t, O’Reilly goes on to raise the seemingly obligatory “respectability” point, saying:

“American children must learn not only academics but also civil behavior, right from wrong, as well as how to speak properly and how to act respectfully in public.”

Then he falls back on the crux of his argument:

“Instead of preaching a cultural revolution, the leadership provides excuses for failure. The race hustlers blame white privilege, an unfair society, a terrible country. So the message is, it’s not your fault if you abandon your children, if you become a substance abuser, if you are a criminal. No, it’s not your fault; it’s society’s fault. That is the big lie that is keeping some African-Americans from reaching their full potential. Until personal responsibility and a cultural change takes place, millions of African-Americans will struggle.”

No, Mr. O’Reilly, it is statements like this one that make you the race hustler. The underlying logic is that blacks are possessed of some form of racial pathology or self-destructive racial impulses, that personal responsibility and systemic inequity are separate issues and not intersecting ones.

This is the false dichotomy that chokes to death any real accountability and honesty. Systemic anti-black bias doesn’t dictate personal behavior, but it can certainly influence and inform it. And personal behavior can reinforce people’s belief that their biases are justified. So goes the cycle.

But at the root of it, we can’t expect equality of outcome while acknowledging inequality of environments.

Only a man bathing in privilege would be blind to that.

O’Reilly is a cancerous tumor on what passes for punditry in this country.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Let’s start with what we don’t know: the precise circumstances under which a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., shot dead an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown.

But here’s what evidence does strongly suggest: Young black men in America suffer from widespread racism and stereotyping, by all society — including African-Americans themselves.

Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.

Scholars have found that blacks and Hispanics treated by doctors for a broken leg received pain medication significantly less often than white patients with the same injury. School administrators suspend black students at more than three times the rate of white students. Police arrest blacks at 3.7 times the rate of whites for marijuana possession, even though surveys find that both use marijuana at roughly similar rates.

Two scholars sent out nearly 5,000 résumés in response to help-wanted ads, randomly alternating between stereotypically white-sounding names and black-sounding names. They found that it took 50 percent more mailings to get a callback for a black name. A white name yielded as much benefit as eight years of experience, according to the study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

These doctors, principals, prosecutors and recruiters probably believe in equality and are unaware that they are discriminating. So any national conversation about race must be a vivisection of challenges far broader and deeper than we might like to think.

Joshua Correll of the University of Colorado at Boulder has used an online shooter video game to try to measure these unconscious attitudes (you can play the game yourself). The player takes on the role of a police officer who is confronted with a series of images of white or black men variously holding guns or innocent objects such as wallets or cellphones. The aim is to shoot anyone with a gun while holstering your weapon in other cases.

Ordinary players (often university undergraduates) routinely shoot more quickly at black men than at white men, and are more likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man.

I’m typical. The first time I took the test, years ago, I shot armed blacks in an average of 0.679 seconds while waiting slightly longer — 0.694 seconds — to shoot armed whites. I also holstered more quickly when confronted with unarmed whites than with unarmed blacks.

In effect, we have a more impulsive trigger finger when confronted by black men and are more cautious with whites. This is true of black players as well, apparently because they absorb the same cultural values as everyone else: Correll has found no statistically significant difference between the play of blacks and that of whites in the shooting game.

“There’s a whole culture that promotes this idea of aggressive young black men,” Correll notes. “In our minds, young black men are associated with danger.”

Further evidence for these unconscious attitudes toward race come from implicit association tests, a window into how our unconscious minds work. You can take them online at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

One finding is that we unconsciously associate “American” with “white.” Thus, in 2008, some California college students — many who were supporting Barack Obama for president — unconsciously treated Obama as more foreign than Tony Blair, the former British prime minister. Likewise, Americans may be factually aware that Lucy Liu is an American actress and Kate Winslet is British, but the tests indicated that Americans considered Liu as more foreign than Winslet.

Yet we needn’t surrender to our most atavistic impulses. Prejudice is not immutable, and over all the progress in America on race is remarkable. In 1958, 4 percent of Americans approved of black-white marriages; today, 87 percent do.

There’s some evidence that training, metrics and policies can suppress biases or curb their impact. In law enforcement, more cameras — police car cams and body cams — create accountability and may improve behavior. When Rialto, Calif., introduced body cams on police officers, there was an 88 percent decline in complaints filed about police by members of the public.

Yet an uncomfortable starting point is to understand that racial stereotyping remains ubiquitous, and that the challenge is not a small number of twisted white supremacists but something infinitely more subtle and complex: People who believe in equality but who act in ways that perpetuate bias and inequality.

Blow and Krugman

August 25, 2014

In “A Funeral in Ferguson” Mr. Blow reminds us that nobody should know what it feels like to bury a child as the whole world watches. But that is what Michael Brown’s parents must do.   In “Wrong Way Nation” Prof. Krugman says the Sunbelt may be growing in population, but it’s not because of pro-business and pro-wealthy policies and higher wages.   Here’s Mr. Blow:

Two weeks after the killing of Michael Brown, we have become painfully familiar with his parents through their public appearances and television interviews, their faces drawn, their sorrow apparent.

Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, constantly dabbing tears from her face, sparing in her responses, but powerfully articulating her agony with the words she chooses. Brown’s father, Michael Brown Sr., with shaved head and full beard, a large man often clad in a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase “No Justice, No Peace” and a baby picture of his son. The senior Brown is stoic, resolute in his speech, but even in the power of his presence there is the certainness that a hollow space has been made.

On Monday, they are scheduled to bury their boy as the whole world watches.

No one should know what that feels like.

Whatever one may feel about the contours of this case — about what led Officer Darren Wilson to shoot the teenager, about the relationship of the police to people of color, about the protests and unrest that followed, about the militarized police response to the unrest, about the quality of the investigations and the level of confidence people have in them, about the perverse sense of theater emerging from the rhythms of the days under the glare of media lights — we can all, in our shared humanity, feel for parents who lose a child.

As a parent myself, I can’t fathom the ache and inextinguishable anguish that must accompany such a loss.

Losing any loved one is painful, but losing a child — particularly in such a violent way and particularly a young child — must be exceedingly painful. It also upsets the order of things. Children should outlive you. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, the way the world and life would have it. But, in a moment, the world stops making sense.

I don’t think anyone can be properly prepared to deal with the news of such a thing. In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday, the mother recounted, with tears streaming down her face, the feeling of getting the call that her son had been shot, before getting to the scene:

“Before even getting there, somebody call you on the phone and tell you something like that, and you miles away. It’s terrible.”

The father recounted the excruciating wait once he and the mother arrived on the scene and how upsetting it all was:

“We couldn’t even see him. They wouldn’t even let us go see him. They just left him out there, four and a half hours, with no answers. Wouldn’t nobody tell us nothing.”

It’s hard to imagine a more painful scenario and the grief it must carry.

And that grief can last for a very long time.

A 2008 study published in The Journal of Family Psychology found that, understandably, the death of a child can have “long-term effects on the lives of parents,” including “more depressive symptoms, poorer well-being, and more health problems.” Even that, to me, feels like an understatement. I am always in awe at the strength displayed by parents who lose a child and are immediately thrust into the public eye because their children cease to simply be children but graduate into being a cause.

Yet, too many people have had to endure a similar grief, if often under different circumstances. According to ChildDeathReview.org, in 2010, 45,068 children ages 0 to 19 died in the United States. Two-thirds died of natural causes. Another 8,684 died of unintentional injuries like car accidents and drowning. But 2,808 died as result of homicide, including 1,790 by firearm.

And when the person being shot is shot not by one of the bad guys (people all parents teach children to avoid as best they can) but by one of the people we as a society count as one of the good guys (police officers sworn to protect and serve) there are obviously going to be questions that need answering.

Whenever I see parents like these, standing and speaking in the wake of tragedy, I find myself studying their faces, imagining — hoping, really — that if I were them, I, too, would be this strong, that I, too, would fight on my child’s behalf, for justice and against the besmirchment of his or her memory. But something in me whispers that it’s a lie, that I would be overcome and inconsolable, that so much of me would die with my child that not enough of me would be left to carry on.

So the least I think all of us can do, in consoling solidarity, is to join them in paying our last respects. At 10 a.m. Central time on Monday, when the funeral is scheduled to begin, take a moment to think of them, to commiserate with two grieving parents, knowing they are in a position that none of us would want to be in.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is running for president again. What are his chances? Will he once again become a punch line? I have absolutely no idea. This isn’t a horse-race column.

What I’d like to do, instead, is take advantage of Mr. Perry’s ambitions to talk about one of my favorite subjects: interregional differences in economic and population growth.

You see, while Mr. Perry’s hard-line stances and religiosity may be selling points for the Republican Party’s base, his national appeal, if any, will have to rest on claims that he knows how to create prosperity. And it’s true that Texas has had faster job growth than the rest of the country. So have other Sunbelt states with conservative governments. The question, however, is why.

The answer from the right is, of course, that it’s all about avoiding regulations that interfere with business and keeping taxes on rich people low, thereby encouraging job creators to do their thing. But it turns out that there are big problems with this story, quite aside from the habit economists pushing this line have of getting their facts wrong.

To see the problems, let’s tell a tale of three cities.

One of these cities is the place those of us who live in its orbit tend to call simply “the city.” And, these days, it’s a place that’s doing pretty well on a number of fronts. But despite the inflow of immigrants and hipsters, enough people are still moving out of greater New York — a metropolitan area that, according to the Census, extends into Pennsylvania on one side and Connecticut on the other — that its overall population rose less than 5 percent between 2000 and 2012. Over the same period, greater Atlanta’s population grew almost 27 percent, and greater Houston’s grew almost 30 percent. America’s center of gravity is shifting south and west. But why?

Is it, as people like Mr. Perry assert, because pro-business, pro-wealthy policies like those he favors mean opportunity for everyone? If that were the case, we’d expect all those job opportunities to cause rising wages in the Sunbelt, wages that attract ambitious people away from moribund blue states.

It turns out, however, that wages in the places within the United States attracting the most migrants are typically lower than in the places those migrants come from, suggesting that the places Americans are leaving actually have higher productivity and more job opportunities than the places they’re going. The average job in greater Houston pays 12 percent less than the average job in greater New York; the average job in greater Atlanta pays 22 percent less.

So why are people moving to these relatively low-wage areas? Because living there is cheaper, basically because of housing. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, rents (including the equivalent rent involved in buying a house) in metropolitan New York are about 60 percent higher than in Houston, 70 percent higher than in Atlanta.

In other words, what the facts really suggest is that Americans are being pushed out of the Northeast (and, more recently, California) by high housing costs rather than pulled out by superior economic performance in the Sunbelt.

But why are housing prices in New York or California so high? Population density and geography are part of the answer. For example, Los Angeles, which pioneered the kind of sprawl now epitomized by Atlanta, has run out of room and become a surprisingly dense metropolis. However, as Harvard’s Edward Glaeser and others have emphasized, high housing prices in slow-growing states also owe a lot to policies that sharply limit construction. Limits on building height in the cities, zoning that blocks denser development in the suburbs and other policies constrict housing on both coasts; meanwhile, looser regulation in the South has kept the supply of housing elastic and the cost of living low.

So conservative complaints about excess regulation and intrusive government aren’t entirely wrong, but the secret of Sunbelt growth isn’t being nice to corporations and the 1 percent; it’s not getting in the way of middle- and working-class housing supply.

And this, in turn, means that the growth of the Sunbelt isn’t the kind of success story conservatives would have us believe. Yes, Americans are moving to places like Texas, but, in a fundamental sense, they’re moving the wrong way, leaving local economies where their productivity is high for destinations where it’s lower. And the way to make the country richer is to encourage them to move back, by making housing in dense, high-wage metropolitan areas more affordable.

So Rick Perry doesn’t know the secrets of job creation, or even of regional growth. It would be great to see the real key — affordable housing — become a national issue. But I don’t think Democrats are willing to nominate Mayor Bill de Blasio for president just yet.

Blow and Collins

August 21, 2014

Today we have just Mr. Blow and Ms. Collins, since Mr. Kristof is off.  In “Constructing a Conversation on Race” Mr. Blow says true racial dialogue is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional.  In “Tell It to the Camera,” Ms. Collins says let’s hear it for the long-shot candidates this year. Like the high school math teacher running for the U.S. Senate in Montana.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The killing of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer, Darren Wilson, and the protests that have followed have brought about calls for the much-ballyhooed — or bemoaned, depending on your perspective — conversation about race.

I wish these calls were not so episodic and tied to tragedies. I also wish this call for a conversation wasn’t tied to protests. Protests have life cycles. They explode into existence, but they all eventually die. They build like pressure in the volcano until they erupt. Then there is quiet until the next eruption. The cycle is untenable and nearly devoid of aim and the possibility of resolution.

What we must discuss is best discussed during the dormancy.

The discussion just needs some guidance.

Let’s start with understanding what a racial conversation shouldn’t look like. It shouldn’t be an insulated, circular, intra-racial dialogue only among people who feel aggrieved.

A true racial dialogue is not intra-racial but interracial. It is not one-directional — from minorities to majorities — but multidirectional. Data must be presented. Experiences must be explored. Histories and systems must be laid bare. Biases, fears, stereotype and mistrust must be examined. Personal — as well as societal and cultural — responsibility must be taken.

And privileges and oppressions must be acknowledged. We must acknowledge how each of us is, in myriad ways, materially and spiritually affected by a society in which bias has been widely documented to exist and in which individuals also acknowledge that it exists.

Take the results of a CBS News poll released in July. While three-fourths of respondents believe, rightly, that progress has been made to get rid of racial discrimination, most Americans acknowledge that discrimination against blacks still exists today.

It may come as little surprise that 88 percent of blacks gauged that level of discrimination as “a lot” or “some” as opposed to “only a little” or “none at all,” but 65 percent of whites agree the level of discrimination against blacks rises to “a lot” or “some.”

Yet when asked whether whites or blacks have a better chance of getting ahead today, 63 percent of whites and 43 percent of blacks said that the chances were equal. (By comparison, 28 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks said whites had a better chance of getting ahead, and only 5 percent of whites and 4 percent of black said blacks had a better chance.)

We have to stop here and really process what we are saying: that even though we acknowledge the existence of discrimination, we still expect those who are the focus of it to succeed, or “get ahead,” at the same rate as those who aren’t. In effect, we are expecting black people to simply shoulder the extra burden that society puts on their shoulders — oppression — while others are free to rise, or even fall, without such a burden — privilege.

Understanding this fundamental inequality, one that trails each of us from cradle to grave, is one of the first steps to genuine, honest dialogue, because in that context we can better understand the choice that people make and the degree to which personal responsibility should be taken or the degree to which it is causative or curative.

And while acknowledging the inequality, and hopefully working to remedy it, we have to find ways to encourage and fortify its targets. I often tell people that while I know well that things aren’t fair or equal, we still have to decide how we are going to deal with that reality, today. The clock on life is ticking. If you wait for life to be fair you may be waiting until life is over. I urge people to fight on two fronts: Work to dismantle as much systematic bias as you can, as much for posterity as for the present, and make the best choice you can under the circumstances to counteract the effects of these injustices on your life right now.

Next, understand that race is a weaponized social construct used to divide and deny.

According to a policy statement on race by the American Anthropological Association, “human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups” and “there is greater variation within ‘racial’ groups than between them.”

The statement continues:

“How people have been accepted and treated within the context of a given society or culture has a direct impact on how they perform in that society. The ‘racial’ worldview was invented to assign some groups to perpetual low status, while others were permitted access to privilege, power, and wealth. The tragedy in the United States has been that the policies and practices stemming from this worldview succeeded all too well in constructing unequal populations among Europeans, Native Americans, and peoples of African descent.”

It ends:

“We conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called ‘racial’ groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances.”

And yet, we have tuned our minds to register this difference above all others, in the blink of an eye. As National Geographic reported in October, “A study of brain activity at the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that subjects register race in about one-tenth of a second, even before they discern gender.” This means that racial registration — and responses to any subconscious bias we may have attached to race — are most likely happening ahead of any deliberative efforts on our part to be egalitarian.

Another step is that we must understand that race is not an isolated construct or consideration. Race and class, education and economics, crime and justice, and family and culture all overlap and intersect. We can’t treat the organ as if it is separate from the organism.

Lastly, some immunity must be granted. Assuming that the conversational engagement is honest and earnest, we must be able to hear and say things that some might find offensive as we stumble toward interpersonal empathy and understanding.

We can talk this through. We can have this conversation. We must. Hopefully this provides a little nudge and a few parameters.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Amanda Curtis, a 34-year-old high school math teacher, is now the Democrats’ U.S. Senate candidate in Montana. Finally, a strategy for bringing down the average age of a senator, which is around 62.

Plus, a math teacher would come in handy. “Elect somebody who knows how to count” would be an awesome campaign ad. If Curtis had the money to pay for any ads, which currently does not seem all that likely.

“I told my husband: ‘Kevin, I’m really sorry I got us into this,’ ” she recalled in a phone interview. “And he said: ‘Why do you have to be so blanking awesome?’ He’s very supportive.”

I believe I speak for all Americans when I say that we are totally in favor of Kevin Curtis as a senatorial spouse.

It’s doubtful that we’ll be seeing any Curtis in Washington anytime soon. But in a week of so much dreadful news from every corner of the world, let’s take an opportunity to sing a happy chorus to this season’s super-long-shot candidates. Really, where would we be without them? Staring at a ballot full of pre-elected public officials, that’s where.

Montana Democrats have been going through what you might call a rough patch. First, Senator Max Baucus announced that he was not going to run again for his seat. Baucus gave out the news early so he could concentrate on “serving Montana.”

Then President Obama offered him an ambassadorship to China and Baucus flat-out quit.

John Walsh, the Democratic lieutenant governor, was appointed to take his place. Then The Times’s Jonathan Martin reported that Walsh had plagiarized a lot of his final paper as a master’s candidate at the Army War College. The senator of six months announced that he was not going to run for a full term against the wealthy congressman Republicans had nominated, because he wanted to devote all his time to his “fight for Montana.”

None of the well-known Democratic names in the state were interested in taking Walsh’s place. Or the somewhat-known names.

“I was scraping and glazing and puttying my storm windows,” said Curtis, who was chosen last weekend by a party convention. “And the phone rang. It was a reporter saying: ‘John Walsh dropped out and they can’t find any other politician to run.’ The storm windows are still leaning against my house.”

Montana has only sent one woman to Congress: Jeannette Rankin, a suffragist and pacifist who was elected in 1916. She was sworn in the same day that Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Rankin voted no and was decried by a Helena newspaper as “a dupe of the Kaiser, a member of the Hun army in the United States, and a crying schoolgirl.” That was pretty much that. Rankin ran again more than two decades later and was elected just before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, giving her the opportunity to cast the only vote against entering World War II. “Montana is 100 percent against you,” her brother wired encouragingly. That was the end of her congressional career. But she held up the torch, and in 1968, at 87, went back to Washington to lead 5,000 demonstrators in a women’s march against the war in Vietnam.

Always happy to have a chance to mention Jeannette Rankin, who teaches us that fighting for a losing cause most definitely does not make you a losing person.

Amanda Curtis grew up in a family rocked by divorce, alcoholism, financial struggles and violence. She fought her way through college and into a teaching career. Her experience with students, she said, taught her that what she thought was a uniquely terrible childhood was actually not all that unusual in Montana. She began to get involved in community groups, and, in 2012, she was elected to the State House of Representatives.

Once in the office, Curtis began posting videos at the end of every day in the Legislature in which she stood in her office or kitchen, sometimes looking perky, sometimes looking exhausted, and talked into the camera. (“Day 73 and wait until you hear this …”) Her mission was part educational, with heavy emphasis on the workings of the Business and Labor Committee.

On the other hand, it was partly pure venting. “It was so hard to … not to walk across the floor and punch him,” she said, in a rant that Montana Republicans have already included in a mash-up of video highlights. Their collection does not note that Curtis was talking about a debate over gay rights in which another lawmaker insinuated that homosexuals lacked moral character.

Imagine what it would be like if our senators all came home every night and posted their real thoughts. When they were too tired to self-censor. Maybe we should make that a requirement.

Blow and Krugman

August 18, 2014

In “Frustration in Ferguson” Mr. Blow says beneath the protests over the killing of Michael Brown are deep layers of injustice.  In “Why We Fight Wars” Prof. Krugman says conquest doesn’t pay, but political leaders don’t seem to care.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The response to the killing of the unarmed teenager Michael Brown — whom his family called the “gentle giant” — by the Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson — who was described by his police chief as “a gentle, quiet man” and “a gentleman” — has been anything but genteel.

There have been passionate but peaceful protests to be sure, but there has also been some violence and looting. Police forces in the town responded with an outlandish military-like presence more befitting Baghdad than suburban Missouri.

There were armored vehicles, flash grenades and a seemingly endless supply of tear gas — much of it Pentagon trickle-down. There were even officers perched atop vehicles, in camouflage and body armor, pointing weapons in the direction of peaceful protesters.

Let me be clear here: Pointing a gun at an innocent person is an act of violence and provocation.

Americans were aghast at the images, and condemnation was swift and bipartisan. The governor put the state’s Highway Patrol in charge of security. Tensions seemed to subside, for a day.

But then on Friday, when releasing the name of the officer who did the shooting, the police chief also released details and images of a robbery purporting to show Brown stealing cigars from a local convenience store and pushing a store employee in the process.

The implication seemed to be that Wilson was looking for the person who committed the convenience store crime when he encountered Brown. But, later in the day, the chief said Wilson didn’t know Brown was a robbery suspect when they encountered each other.

Something seemed off. The police chief’s decision to release the details of the robbery and the images — without releasing an image of Wilson — struck many as perfidious. In a strongly worded statement, Brown’s family and attorneys accused the chief of attempting to assassinate the character of the dead teen.

Some also deemed it an attempt at distraction from the central issue: An officer shot an unarmed teenager who witnesses claim had raised his hands in surrender when at least some of the shots were fired, which the family and its attorneys called “a brutal assassination of his person in broad daylight.”

The Justice Department is even investigating whether Brown’s civil rights were violated. This would include the excessive use of force. As the department makes clear, this “does not require that any racial, religious, or other discriminatory motive existed.”

It’s impossible to truly know the chief’s motives for his decision to release the robbery information at the same time as the officer’s name, but the effect was clear: That night, a fragile peace was shattered. There was more looting, although peaceful protesters struggled heroically to block the violent ones.

On Saturday, the governor issued a midnight curfew for the town. A small band of protesters defied it and some were arrested.

The community is struggling to find its way back to normalcy, but it would behoove us to dig a bit deeper into the underlying frustrations that cause a place like Ferguson to erupt in the first place and explore the untenable nature of our normal.

Yes, there are the disturbingly repetitive and eerily similar circumstances of many cases of unarmed black people being killed by police officers. This reinforces black people’s beliefs — supportable by actual data — that blacks are treated less fairly by the police.

But I submit that this is bigger than that. The frustration we see in Ferguson is about not only the present act of perceived injustice but also the calcifying system of inequity — economic, educational, judicial — drawn largely along racial lines.

In 1951, Langston Hughes began his poem “Harlem” with a question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Today, I must ask: What happens when one desists from dreaming, when the very exercise feels futile?

The discussion about issues in the black community too often revolves around a false choice: systemic racial bias or poor personal choices. In fact, these factors are interwoven like the fingers of clasped hands. People make choices within the context of their circumstances and those circumstances are affected — sometimes severely — by bias.

These biases do material damage as well as help breed a sense of disenfranchisement and despair, which in turn can have a depressive effect on aspiration and motivation. This all feeds back on itself.

If we want to truly address the root of the unrest in Ferguson, we have to ask ourselves how we can break this cycle.

Otherwise, Hughes’s last words of “Harlem,” referring to the dream deferred, will continue to be prophetic: “does it explode?”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

A century has passed since the start of World War I, which many people at the time declared was “the war to end all wars.” Unfortunately, wars just kept happening. And with the headlines from Ukraine getting scarier by the day, this seems like a good time to ask why.

Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. In influential research sponsored by the World Bank, the Oxford economist Paul Collier has shown that the best predictor of civil war, which is all too common in poor countries, is the availability of lootable resources like diamonds. Whatever other reasons rebels cite for their actions seem to be mainly after-the-fact rationalizations. War in the preindustrial world was and still is more like a contest among crime families over who gets to control the rackets than a fight over principles.

If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay. And this has been true for a long time. In his famous 1910 book “The Great Illusion,” the British journalist Norman Angell argued that “military power is socially and economically futile.” As he pointed out, in an interdependent world (which already existed in the age of steamships, railroads, and the telegraph), war would necessarily inflict severe economic harm even on the victor. Furthermore, it’s very hard to extract golden eggs from sophisticated economies without killing the goose in the process.

We might add that modern war is very, very expensive. For example, by any estimate the eventual costs (including things like veterans’ care) of the Iraq war will end up being well over $1 trillion, that is, many times Iraq’s entire G.D.P.

So the thesis of “The Great Illusion” was right: Modern nations can’t enrich themselves by waging war. Yet wars keep happening. Why?

One answer is that leaders may not understand the arithmetic. Angell, by the way, often gets a bum rap from people who think that he was predicting an end to war. Actually, the purpose of his book was to debunk atavistic notions of wealth through conquest, which were still widespread in his time. And delusions of easy winnings still happen. It’s only a guess, but it seems likely that Vladimir Putin thought that he could overthrow Ukraine’s government, or at least seize a large chunk of its territory, on the cheap — a bit of deniable aid to the rebels, and it would fall into his lap.

And for that matter, remember when the Bush administration predicted that overthrowing Saddam and installing a new government would cost only $50 billion or $60 billion?

The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests.

Recently Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review suggested that the roots of the Ukraine crisis may lie in the faltering performance of the Russian economy. As he noted, Mr. Putin’s hold on power partly reflects a long run of rapid economic growth. But Russian growth has been sputtering — and you could argue that the Putin regime needed a distraction.

Similar arguments have been made about other wars that otherwise seem senseless, like Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, which is often attributed to the then-ruling junta’s desire to distract the public from an economic debacle. (To be fair, some scholars are highly critical of this claim.)

And the fact is that nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how foolish the war or how awful the leaders. Argentina’s junta briefly became extremely popular during the Falklands war. For a time, the “war on terror” took President George W. Bush’s approval to dizzying heights, and Iraq probably won him the 2004 election. True to form, Mr. Putin’s approval ratings have soared since the Ukraine crisis began.

No doubt it’s an oversimplification to say that the confrontation in Ukraine is all about shoring up an authoritarian regime that is stumbling on other fronts. But there’s surely some truth to that story — and that raises some scary prospects for the future.

Most immediately, we have to worry about escalation in Ukraine. All-out war would be hugely against Russia’s interests — but Mr. Putin may feel that letting the rebellion collapse would be an unacceptable loss of face.

And if authoritarian regimes without deep legitimacy are tempted to rattle sabers when they can no longer deliver good performance, think about the incentives China’s rulers will face if and when that nation’s economic miracle comes to an end — something many economists believe will happen soon.

Starting a war is a very bad idea. But it keeps happening anyway.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

August 14, 2014

In “Michael Brown and Black Men” Mr. Blow says the killing is a wrenching reminder of the criminalization of black and brown bodies from the moment they are introduced to society.  Mr. Kristof says “Don’t Dismiss the Humanities,” and that the humanities aren’t obscure, arcane or irrelevant. They awaken our souls, influence how we think about inequality, and help us adapt to a changing world.  Ms. Collins asks “What’s Next With Hillary?”  She says Clinton and Obama are together again. She said something. He forgave her. You would think they were professional politicians!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The killing of Michael Brown has tapped into something bigger than Michael Brown.

Brown was the unarmed 18-year-old black man who was shot to death Saturday by a policeman in Ferguson, Mo. There are conflicting accounts of the events that led to the shooting. There is an investigation by local authorities as well as one by federal authorities. There are grieving parents and a seething community. There are swarms of lawyers and hordes of reporters. There has been unrest. The president has appealed for reflection and healing.

There is an eerie echo in it all — a sense of tragedy too often repeated. And yet the sheer morbid, wrenching rhythm of it belies a larger phenomenon, one obscured by its vastness, one that can be seen only when one steps back and looks from a distance and with data: The criminalization of black and brown bodies — particularly male ones — from the moment they are first introduced to the institutions and power structures with which they must interact.

Earlier this year, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released “the first comprehensive look at civil rights from every public school in the country in nearly 15 years.” As the report put it: “The 2011-2012 release shows that access to preschool programs is not a reality for much of the country. In addition, students of color are suspended more often than white students, and black and Latino students are significantly more likely to have teachers with less experience who aren’t paid as much as their colleagues in other schools.”

Attorney General Eric Holder, remarking on the data, said: “This critical report shows that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.”

But, of course, this criminalization stalks these children throughout their school careers.

As The New York Times editorial board pointed out last year: “Children as young as 12 have been treated as criminals for shoving matches and even adolescent misconduct like cursing in school. This is worrisome because young people who spend time in adult jails are more likely to have problems with law enforcement later on. Moreover, federal data suggest a pattern of discrimination in the arrests, with black and Hispanic children more likely to be affected than their white peers.”

A 2010 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that while the average suspension rate for middle school students in 18 of the nation’s largest school districts was 11.2 percent in 2006, the rate for black male students was 28.3 percent, by far the highest of any subgroup by race, ethnicity or gender. And, according to the report, previous research “has consistently found that racial/ethnic disproportionality in discipline persists even when poverty and other demographic factors are controlled.”

And these disparities can have a severe impact on a child’s likelihood of graduating. According to a report from the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University that looked at Florida students, “Being suspended even once in 9th grade is associated with a two-fold increase in the risk for dropping out.”

Black male dropout rates are more than one and a half times those of white males, and when you look at the percentage of black men who graduate on time — in four years, not including those who possibly go on to get G.E.D.s, transfer to other schools or fail grades — the numbers are truly horrific. Only about half of these black men graduate on time.

Now, the snowball is rolling. The bias of the educational system bleeds easily into the bias of the criminal justice system — from cops to courts to correctional facilities. The school-to-prison pipeline is complete.

A May report by the Brookings Institution found: “There is nearly a 70 percent chance that an African American man without a high school diploma will be imprisoned by his mid-thirties.”

This is in part because trending policing disparities are particularly troubling in places like Missouri. As the editorial board of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out this week: “Last year, for the 11th time in the 14 years that data has been collected, the disparity index that measures potential racial profiling by law enforcement in the state got worse. Black Missourians were 66 percent more likely in 2013 to be stopped by police, and blacks and Hispanics were both more likely to be searched, even though the likelihood of finding contraband was higher among whites.”

And this is the reality if the child actually survives the journey. That is if he has the internal fortitude to continue to stand with the weight on his shoulders. That is if he doesn’t find himself on the wrong end of a gun barrel. That is if his parents can imbue in him a sense of value while the world endeavors to imbue in him a sense of worthlessness.

Parents can teach children how to interact with authority and how to mitigate the threat response their very being elicits. They can wrap them in love to safeguard them against the bitterness of racial suspicion.

It can be done. It is often done. But it is heartbreaking nonetheless. What psychic damage does it do to the black mind when one must come to own and manage the fear of the black body?

The burden of bias isn’t borne by the person in possession of it but by the person who is the subject of it. The violence is aimed away from the possessor of its instruments — the arrow is pointed away from the killer and at the prey.

It vests victimhood in the idea of personhood. It steals sometimes, something precious and irreplaceable. It breaks something that’s irreparable. It alters something in a way that’s irrevocable.

We flinchingly choose a lesser damage.

But still, the hopelessness takes hold when one realizes that there is no amount of acting right or doing right, no amount of parental wisdom or personal resilience that can completely guarantee survival, let alone success.

Brown had just finished high school and was to start college this week. The investigation will hopefully clarify what led to his killing. But it is clear even now that his killing occurred in a context, one that we would do well to recognize.

Brown’s mother told a local television station after he was killed just weeks after his high school graduation: “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate? You know how many black men graduate? Not many. Because you bring them down to this type of level, where they feel like they don’t got nothing to live for anyway. ‘They’re going to try to take me out anyway.’ ”

Next up is Mr. Kristof:

What use could the humanities be in a digital age?

University students focusing on the humanities may end up, at least in their parents’ nightmares, as dog-walkers for those majoring in computer science. But, for me, the humanities are not only relevant but also give us a toolbox to think seriously about ourselves and the world.

I wouldn’t want everybody to be an art or literature major, but the world would be poorer — figuratively, anyway — if we were all coding software or running companies. We also want musicians to awaken our souls, writers to lead us into fictional lands, and philosophers to help us exercise our minds and engage the world.

Skeptics may see philosophy as the most irrelevant and self-indulgent of the humanities, but the way I understand the world is shaped by three philosophers in particular.

First, Sir Isaiah Berlin described the world as muddled and complex, with many competing values yet no simple yardstick to determine which should trump the others. We yearn for One True Answer, but it’s our lot to struggle to reconcile inconsistent goals. He referred to this as pluralism of values.

Yet Sir Isaiah also cautioned against the hand-wringing that sometimes paralyzes intellectuals, the idea that everything is so complex, nuanced and uncertain that one cannot act. It’s the idea pilloried by Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Sir Isaiah argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty — and then forging ahead. “Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood.”

Second, John Rawls offers a useful way of thinking about today’s issues such as inequality or poverty, of institutionalizing what our society gravely lacks: empathy. He explores basic questions of fairness, leading to a compelling explanation for why we should create safety nets to support the poor and good schools to help their kids achieve a better life.

Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.

Or, in the context of today’s news, we may be less likely to deport Honduran children back to the desolate conditions from which they have fled.

We still will allow for inequality to create incentives for economic growth, but Rawls suggests that, from an original position, we will choose structures that allow inequality only when the least advantaged members of society also benefit.

Third, Peter Singer of Princeton University has pioneered the public discussion of our moral obligations to animals, including those we raise to eat. Singer wrote a landmark book in 1975, “Animal Liberation,” and cites utilitarian reasoning to argue that it’s wrong to inflict cruelty on cows, hogs or chickens just so that we can enjoy a tasty lunch.

It has long been recognized that we have some ethical obligations that transcend our species; that’s why we’re arrested if we torture kittens or organize dog fights. But Singer focused squarely on industrial agriculture and the thrice-daily question of what we put on our plates, turning that into not just a gastronomical issue but also a moral one.

I’m not a vegetarian, although I’m sometimes tempted, but Singer’s arguments still apply. Do we skip regular eggs or pay more for cage-free? Should I eat goose liver pâté (achieved by torturing geese)? Do we give preference to restaurants that try to source pork or chicken in ways that inflict less pain?

So let me push back at the idea that the humanities are obscure, arcane and irrelevant. These three philosophers influence the way I think about politics, immigration, inequality; they even affect what I eat.

It’s also worth pointing out that these three philosophers are recent ones. To adapt to a changing world, we need new software for our cellphones; we also need new ideas. The same goes for literature, for architecture, languages and theology.

Our world is enriched when coders and marketers dazzle us with smartphones and tablets, but, by themselves, they are just slabs. It is the music, essays, entertainment and provocations that they access, spawned by the humanities, that animate them — and us.

So, yes, the humanities are still relevant in the 21st century — every bit as relevant as an iPhone.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Well, let’s hope that’s over.

President Obama was in Martha’s Vineyard, playing golf. Hillary Clinton arrived, ready to sign books. They were headed for the same birthday party where, a Clinton aide said, they intended to “hug it out.” Peace was declared. Extraordinary! You would think they were both professional politicians.

As the whole world now knows, Clinton gave an interview to The Atlantic last week in which she took issue with President Obama’s “don’t do stupid stuff” foreign policy mantra, pushed a harder line than the White House on Iran, and disagreed with Obama’s refusal to arm the rebels in Syria.

The Clinton camp insists she had no intention of breaking with the president. But if that’s the case, then the former secretary of state had trouble saying precisely what she wanted to say about foreign policy. That just doesn’t sound like Hillary Clinton, who is a great conversationalist off the record, yet has an absolute genius way of saying nothing exciting whatsoever when the tape recorder is running.

Some people think that after years on the diplomacy trail, she may have lost her edge. “I don’t know if her political instincts are in top shape,” said a Friend of Obama. But then, you know, F.O.B.

Given all the options, I’d prefer to think it was a minor betrayal. Loyalty may be an overrated virtue in high-level politics. Really, nobody cares if a president back-bites a former colleague or dumps a best friend. Just keep the country running and we’re good.

Anyway, he forgives her! Hugs scheduled for the birthday party for Vernon Jordan’s wife.

It’s only been six years since Obama and Clinton ran against each other, but, wow, does it feel longer. Watching Obama, I remembered a time during the 2008 campaign when he told a story about a woman who’d “seen some years,” adding: “She’s maybe close to 60.” Some of the middle-aged women in the crowd started to hiss.

Now, the president himself looks as though he’s seen some years. He’s long since gotten his first AARP mailings. And Clinton has been heir apparent — forever. Democrats have gotten so used to thinking of her as the next president that they’ve stopped seriously evaluating her as a candidate for their nomination.

The Atlantic interview sort of bounced everything back into perspective. Liberals with dovish leanings raced to Google to see whether any high-ranking Democrats have been sighted at the Iowa State Fair. What does Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley think about uranium enrichment negotiations with Iran? (We always describe him as “Maryland governor” because nobody outside of his home state knows who Martin O’Malley is.) Has Elizabeth Warren totally ruled out running? (Yes.)

Hillary’s still got the virtues her base has always admired: intelligence, experience, remarkable ability to take a punch and keep on running. Everybody loves the woman who showed up on “The Colbert Report” the other night, having a name-dropping contest with the host. Everybody remembers her determination to lift up women’s rights in Asia and Africa, her unflagging energy as secretary of state (956,733 miles traveled; total travel time, 2,084 hours).

But now that she’s brought up actual issues, the party’s rank-and-file deserves some more information.

Back in the 2008 primaries, Obama was arguing that with the right leadership in the White House, America could get rid of the old brain-dead partisanship of the past and reach a new era of bipartisan cooperation. Hillary, working off long experience, said the real world was tougher and more complicated than that. After the election, as Washington ground to a hopeless, vicious, zombified halt, she was proved right.

In foreign affairs, too, Clinton reflected what she’d learned when her husband was president. Airstrikes worked in Kosovo. Bill Clinton brought Israel and the Palestinians right to the edge of a peace deal, but the Palestinians backed away. The president failed to intervene in Rwanda, and regretted it forever. The bad guys only understood a firm hand. During the debates, she refused to say that during her first year in office she’d be open to meeting with leaders of countries like Cuba or North Korea. If the Iranians declared nuclear war on Israel, she told an interviewer, as president she would “totally obliterate” them.

This is the Hillary who popped back up this week. She was probably being neither politically calculating nor blundering in the Atlantic interview, but simply being unusually clear about what she believes. And we need to hear more, not less. Does she really think the Syrian disaster could have been averted if the United States had helped the rebels? In The Atlantic, she was a little oblique on that point. Maybe a debate with Joe Biden. …

“I’m excited about signing my books,” Clinton said Wednesday night, when a reporter asked how she feels about Obama’s Iraq policy. It’s August, everybody’s friends, and we may not hear another serious conversation on these matters until 2015.

If Hillary Clinton is the best that the Democratic party can do we’re doomed.

Blow and Krugman

August 11, 2014

In “Intervening in Our Name” Mr. Blow says Americans need to perk up and pay attention to global issues.  This is true, but unlikely to happen given the state of our media.  Prof. Krugman, in “Phosphorus and Freedom” Prof. Krugman says free markets can’t solve all our problems. Just ask Toledo.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Americans, it must be admitted, are not always the most engaged people on world issues. It’s a sad truth.

But the world, at this moment, is aflame, and more Americans must perk up and pay attention. Before we know it, we will have already been drawn into these conflicts.

On Thursday, President Obama said he had authorized limited airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, which the president said threatens some citizens of northern Iraq with “genocide.” The president, ever-conscious of his own commitment to extract us from the war in Iraq and of American weariness about our re-engaging, added: “As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq.”

Most Americans probably had not heard of ISIS until a few months ago, but we have known about the civil war in Syria for years. Many Americans, understandably, didn’t want to engage in another foreign conflict, but from this region sprang ISIS. We, understandably, were eager to exit Iraq, but into that void flowed ISIS.

Russia annexed the Crimea, a commercial airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine — likely by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists — and now Russia appears to be gathering a menacing troop presence on the Ukrainian border. As Reuters reported last week:

“Russia has amassed around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and could use the pretext of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission to invade, NATO said.”

The on-again-off-again cease-fires in Gaza have yet to produce a lasting peace. Before last week’s cease-fire,  according to United Nations figures, there had been “1,814 Palestinians killed, including at least 1,312 civilians, of whom 408 are children and 214 are women.” By comparison, the report said there were “67 Israelis killed, including 64 soldiers, two civilians and one foreign national.”

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week asked Americans if they were satisfied with, dissatisfied with or didn’t know enough about how the United States was dealing with many of these topics, and the answers were thoroughly depressing.

On ISIS in Iraq, Syria, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Israel and Hamas, at least 32 percent — and as high as 42 percent in the case of Syria — said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Of respondents who did have an opinion, those who were dissatisfied far outnumbered those who were satisfied, and most of the dissatisfied said their dissatisfaction was rooted in their belief that the United States wasn’t involved enough.

More Americans need to be more engaged, because these conflicts are complicated. There are no easy answers. Sometimes there will be no clear choices between good guys and bad guys but only choices among lesser demons. Sometimes conflicts are a swirl of history, ambition, grievance, vengeance and egos. Sometimes actors can only see righteousness in their wrong. Sometimes nobility and savagery coexist.

But if America, as the world’s last remaining superpower, is to faithfully play a role — if we must play that role — as a check against tyranny and terror in the world, its citizenry must be up to the task of discernment.

You don’t necessarily have to be privy to national security reports to be part of the national conversation. Those who know more don’t always know better. It has been my experience that truth has a way of revealing itself to those willing to search for it.

We have a responsibility to stay abreast of the conflicts in the world so that we can support or reject our leaders’ efforts to navigate them.

Abdicating that responsibility inevitably seems to grant more power to the war machine and its warmongers who have never seen a fight they didn’t want to join.

But we continue to be reminded that what’s left in the wake of force can be worse than what existed before it. Sadly, not every population can be freed, nor every life saved, by an exterior force when threatened by the reign of dictators or the rise of terrorists. This is a hard truth to swallow in the land of the free and home of the brave. Our hearts hurt for the oppressed and the slain.

But sometimes we must use softer power. As the president said in May at West Point: “Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Sometimes sanctions will be the more appropriate path, sometimes appeals for peace. And regardless of our approach, we have no guarantees of success. There are limits to all expressions of power. Sometimes we can only influence — but not dictate — events.

Sometimes the best we can do is to maintain constant pressure, so that we slowly bend the world toward freedom and justice.

Whatever our politics, we must at least make an effort to know enough about the issues to take a position.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

In the latest Times Magazine, Robert Draper profiled youngish libertarians — roughly speaking, people who combine free-market economics with permissive social views — and asked whether we might be heading for a “libertarian moment.” Well, probably not. Polling suggests that young Americans tend, if anything, to be more supportive of the case for a bigger government than their elders. But I’d like to ask a different question: Is libertarian economics at all realistic?

The answer is no. And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus.

As you’ve probably heard, the City of Toledo recently warned its residents not to drink the water. Why? Contamination from toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, largely caused by the runoff of phosphorus from farms.

When I read about that, it rang a bell. Last week many Republican heavy hitters spoke at a conference sponsored by the blog Red State — and I remembered an antigovernment rant a few years back from Erick Erickson, the blog’s founder. Mr. Erickson suggested that oppressive government regulation had reached the point where citizens might want to “march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp.” And the source of his rage? A ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergent. After all, why would government officials want to do such a thing?

An aside: The states bordering Lake Erie banned or sharply limited phosphates in detergent long ago, temporarily bringing the lake back from the brink. But farming has so far evaded effective controls, so the lake is dying again, and it will take more government intervention to save it.

The point is that before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering. Often — not always, of course, but far more often than the free-market faithful would have you believe — there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved. Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique.

Smart libertarians have always realized that there are problems free markets alone can’t solve — but their alternatives to government tend to be implausible. For example, Milton Friedman famously called for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. But in that case, how would consumers know whether their food and drugs were safe? His answer was to rely on tort law. Corporations, he claimed, would have the incentive not to poison people because of the threat of lawsuits.

So, do you believe that would be enough? Really? And, of course, people who denounce big government also tend to call for tort reform and attack trial lawyers.

More commonly, self-proclaimed libertarians deal with the problem of market failure both by pretending that it doesn’t happen and by imagining government as much worse than it really is. We’re living in an Ayn Rand novel, they insist. (No, we aren’t.) We have more than a hundred different welfare programs, they tell us, which are wasting vast sums on bureaucracy rather than helping the poor. (No, we don’t, and no, they aren’t.)

I’m often struck, incidentally, by the way antigovernment clichés can trump everyday experience. Talk about the role of government, and you invariably have people saying things along the lines of, “Do you want everything run like the D.M.V.?” Experience varies — but my encounters with New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission have generally been fairly good (better than dealing with insurance or cable companies), and I’m sure many libertarians would, if they were honest, admit that their own D.M.V. dealings weren’t too bad. But they go for the legend, not the fact.

Libertarians also tend to engage in projection. They don’t want to believe that there are problems whose solution requires government action, so they tend to assume that others similarly engage in motivated reasoning to serve their political agenda — that anyone who worries about, say, environmental issues is engaged in scare tactics to further a big-government agenda. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, doesn’t just think we’re living out the plot of “Atlas Shrugged”; he asserts that all the fuss over climate change is just “an excuse to grow government.”

As I said at the beginning, you shouldn’t believe talk of a rising libertarian tide; despite America’s growing social liberalism, real power on the right still rests with the traditional alliance between plutocrats and preachers. But libertarian visions of an unregulated economy do play a significant role in political debate, so it’s important to understand that these visions are mirages. Of course some government interventions are unnecessary and unwise. But the idea that we have a vastly bigger and more intrusive government than we need is a foolish fantasy.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

August 7, 2014

In “War Against Whites? I Think Not” Mr. Blow say despite a Republican’s claim that Democrats are waging a divisive campaign, the G.O.P. has long been digging its own grave on issues of racial inclusion.  In “Fighting Ebola for Us All” Mr. Kristof says the outbreak of the Ebola virus underscores that we have both a humanitarian interest and a national interest in addressing global health.  Ms. Collins considers “The Panda Angle” and says pay attention, people! The midterm races are getting so heated that the latest debate is over whether New York needs a couple of bears from China.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, claimed earlier this week that Democrats were waging a “war on whites,” he lifted the lid on a simmering resentment that is very real and very resilient and feeds on anxiety — and fear — about a changing America, and the possibility of those changes upending historical architectures of privilege.

On Monday, Brooks was on Laura Ingraham’s radio show to talk about Republicans’ deportation policies. She played a clip of Ron Fournier of The National Journal on Fox News saying:

“The fastest-growing voting block in this country thinks the Republican Party hates them. This party, your party, cannot be the party of the future beyond November if you’re seen as the party of white people.”

Ingraham asked Brooks to respond to the clip, and he did:

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

This is a paranoid delusion wrapped in a staggering deflection inside an utter lack of personal — or party — accountability.

Republicans have been digging a trench between themselves and racial minorities for decades. One could argue that it began when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and reportedly lamented that, in doing so, he was assuring that Democrats had lost the South for a generation, a kind of political white flight of Southern whites to the Republican Party.

The racial divisiveness became part of the party plan in the 1970s with the “Southern Strategy,” when Richard Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips told The New York Times Magazine: “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans.”

Then Nixon declared a war on drugs in 1971, which is one of the longest-running, most disastrous programs — in both wasted money and wasted lives — in the history of this country.

After more than 40 million drug arrests and $1 trillion spent, what do we have to show for it? For one, an obscene, bloated mass-incarceration system. According to the Sentencing Project, “The United States is the world’s leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in the nation’s prisons or jails — a 500 percent increase over the past thirty years.”

Furthermore, the antidrug campaign has become increasingly focused on arrests for marijuana — a substance that is now legal in some states and whose potential legality is picking up steam in others — and among those arrested exists an unconscionable racial disparity. As the A.C.L.U. has pointed out:

“Despite the fact that whites engage in drug offenses at a higher rate than African-Americans, African-Americans are incarcerated for drug offenses at a rate that is 10 times greater than that of whites.”

The racial divisiveness was further accelerated in the 1976 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan continually invoked the specter of a lecherous welfare-abusing woman from Chicago — the “Welfare Queen,” the media dubbed her — who, he said:

“Has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four nonexisting deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”

The object of the anecdote was reported to be a woman named Linda Taylor.

Only, as a Washington Star article printed in The Times pointed out in February of 1976, “The problem is that the story does not quite check out.”

As the article explained:

“After a series of indictments each one of which was replaced by another indictment, winnowing down the number of charges, Miss Taylor is now charged with using not 80 aliases but four. The amount the state is charging that she received from her alleged fraud is not $150,000 but $8,000.”

The article concluded, “The ‘welfare queen’ item in Mr. Reagan’s repertoire is one of several that seem to be at odds with the facts.”

The racial divisiveness continued in 1988, when George Bush’s supporters used the Willie Horton attack ad against Michael Dukakis.

It continues as Republicans trade racial terms for culture-centric euphemisms. Newt Gingrich, in 2011: “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” although most poor people of working age work. Paul Ryan, earlier this year: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” And Bill O’Reilly said recently in a discussion about legalizing marijuana that the left’s position was that marijuana was harmless and “It’s blacks, you know, you get, you’re trapping the blacks because in certain ghetto neighborhoods it’s part of the culture.”

Add the Obama birthers, voter suppression laws, congressional obstruction and Republicans in the House voting to sue the president, and it becomes clear: Democrats didn’t drive a wedge between Republicans and blacks; Republicans drove blacks away. Blacks have voted more than 80 percent Democratic in every election since at least 1972 and that percentage was over 90 percent in both of Obama’s elections.

And in the Obama era — despite what Mo Brooks says — Republicans are not only solidifying their division with blacks but solidifying a divide with Hispanics as well.

(In 2008, most of the people voting for Barack Obama were white. In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, even if every black person in America had stayed home on Election Day that year, Obama would still have won.)

But during Obama’s term, as a Gallup poll found in March, more whites have moved away from the Democratic Party and toward the Republican Party. It was yet more white flight.

As for Hispanics, Republicans seemed to make some headway when George W. Bush, who supported a pathway to citizenship, was in the White House. They shrank a 50-point Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters in 1982 to just 12 points in 2004. But, congressional Republicans destroyed that trend by passing an enforcement-only immigration bill in 2005, sparking nationwide protests, and leading to a 2006 midterm election in which the Democratic advantage among Hispanic voters for House races soared again to 48 percentage points.

Since then, we have seen further anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona’s Show-Me-Your-Papers law, Congress’s failure to move on comprehensive immigration and opposition to efforts to help the Dreamers. It has now culminated in an ugly conservative reaction to the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children from Central American arriving at our southern border.

(It should be noted here that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. Hispanics can be of any race and a recent Pew Research report found that they are increasingly identifying themselves as white.)

Whites are not under attack by Democrats; Republicans like Brooks are simply stoking racial fears to hide their history of racially regressive policies.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

On July 23, Dr. Kent Brantly woke up with a fever. He immediately quarantined himself, and three days later a test confirmed his nightmare. He had the Ebola virus.

Brantly, 33, emailed a friend and said that he was “terrified,” for he knew better than anyone the horror of the virus. He had been treating patients in West Africa with it for many weeks, watching as they vomited, hemorrhaged internally and sometimes bled from multiple orifices — then weakened and died.

Some people have blamed Brantly and another American missionary infected, Nancy Writebol, for bringing the danger to themselves, even objecting to their return to Atlanta to be treated for the disease at Emory University Hospital. For example, Donald Trump argued that Brantly and Writebol should not be brought back to the United States because of the risks involved.

“People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!” Trump said on Twitter.

On the contrary, this Ebola outbreak underscores why we have not only a humanitarian interest in addressing global health, but also a national interest in doing so. Brantly and Writebol are moral leaders in this effort and underscore the practical imperative of tackling global contagions early on. They deserve our gratitude and admiration because in Liberia they were protecting us as well as Liberians.

The human mind is very sensitive to threats from the likes of Al Qaeda. We are less attuned to public health threats, even those that claim more lives: Some 15,000 people with AIDS still die in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s better to address a contagious disease at its source rather than allow it to spread.

“If we don’t fight to contain it there, we’re going to fight to contain it somewhere else,” notes Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian aid group for which Brantly works.

The World Bank has pledged $200 million to try to control the Ebola outbreak, but a tiny fraction of that sum might have contained it early on.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., cites an American-backed program in Uganda to train health workers to diagnose and contain Ebola. It worked. In 2011, a 12-year-old girl there caught the Ebola virus and died from it — but no one else was infected. It was an exceptionally rare Ebola episode that stopped after just a single case.

A similar program in West Africa might likewise have limited the human and financial cost of this outbreak, Frieden noted, adding: “An outbreak anywhere is a risk everywhere.”

This isn’t true only of the Ebola virus. Frieden recalls caring in New York for a patient from India with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis, a complex case that cost $100,000 to cure. Later, a program was set up in the patient’s native village that could have resolved the case early for $10.

New York hospitals have been on alert for Ebola, but diagnosis and segregation are complicated. I know because I was once such a suspected case.

Years ago, when I lived in Japan, I returned to Tokyo from Congo at the time of an Ebola outbreak there. One night a week later, I came down with a high fever. It felt like malaria, so I made inquiries about what hospital in Tokyo could best treat malaria the next day.

The health authorities heard “Congo” and “fever” and sent an ambulance staffed with people in what looked like spacesuits to rush me to a hospital. My neighbors were taken aback by the scene.

But, at the hospital, the emergency room night doctor knew nothing about tropical diseases. He poked me a bit, shrugged and told me to go home. (The next day, I confirmed that it was malaria.)

So don’t see Brantly and Writebol as reckless curiosities who somehow brought Ebola upon themselves. See them as leaders on the front line of an effort to help and protect Americans and Africans alike. We sometimes forget that health workers can brave significant risks — of infection with H.I.V., with tuberculosis, or even with the Ebola virus. Indeed, the staff treating Brantly and Writebol in Atlanta volunteered for that duty, and some offered to cancel vacation plans to help.

Bravo to them, and to so many health workers in Africa and America who try to halt the spread of disease — because it’s where humanitarian interests and national interests coincide.

“It’s natural to feel sorry for Kent” Brantly, a former medical school professor of his, Richard Gunderman, wrote in The Indianapolis Star. “But I wonder if Kent wouldn’t turn this around. Instead, he might feel sorry for some of us, at least those of us shaking our heads in dismay at anyone who would travel halfway across the world to do what he did. A ship may be safest in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.”

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

About politics and pandas …

This is obviously an attempt to get your attention by bringing up a cute and cuddly animal. But give me a break. It’s August.

Congress, as you know, has gone on vacation after setting a spectacular record for nonachievement. Some members are now home, preparing for hard-fought re-election battles in districts where nobody can predict the outcome. That would be about 12 of them. Others are preparing to campaign obsessively even though it’s already obvious that they’re going to win.

And then a bunch of them are off on trips. Because, August.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, a veteran New York Democrat, is in China on an expedition financed by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs. While she’s there, she’ll be making the usual round of meetings and tours. Also, she’ll be visiting a national panda research base — from which, Maloney has suggested a time or 12, she would like to get a couple of bears for New York City. “The greatest city in the world deserves two pandas,” she told The Daily News.

Controversy arose when Maloney’s Republican opponent, Nick Di Iorio, complained that the congresswoman should be thinking about serious problems like jobs and Israel, where he is going on his trip. “It’s not a time we have a luxury of bringing back animals for a zoo,” he declared in a phone interview.

I’m not sure this is true. We all know that we’re not going to be getting a thing out of Congress next year, no matter who wins the elections. In that case, wouldn’t it be cool to have a panda?

It’s kind of metaphysical, really.

Or pragmatic. A happy electorate is an electorate with extremely low expectations. Congress never should have abolished earmarks. If we still had earmarks, we could just send these people off to Washington, cross our fingers, and hope they’ll come home with a new highway exit.

While it is true that I once wrote that Carolyn Maloney is the kind of politician who would pander to a doorknob, this bear quest seems like a totally worthy endeavor. Even though there are no zoos in her district.

On the other hand, you cannot blame Di Iorio for raising the issue, since his options for getting media attention are pretty much limited to walking down Broadway naked or mentioning an adorable animal. (Or maybe starring in a reality TV show about hopeless congressional candidates. This did come up, but Di Iorio says he decided to drop the idea even before it became clear that the promoter was not going to be able to sell the series.)

Anyhow, the district is so heavily Democratic that the panda itself would win if it had the party line on the ballot. “Carolyn Maloney couldn’t lose if she tried,” said David Wasserman of The Cook Political Report.

Most Americans already know that their congressional elections are foregone conclusions. The Cook Report estimates 364 of the House races are in that general category. Meanwhile, there are 16 that are really competitive, about two dozen that are sort of competitive, and 32 others in which the challenger at least has a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

So Maloney’s constituents may look back at the panda exchange as the dramatic high point of the election season. And they will be luckier than a lot of other voters. I live in a district where the Democratic congressional candidate once won even though he was dead. Another time the Democrat was alive, but his challenger was a convicted arsonist.

Of course, there’s no such thing as an absolute shoo-in. Remember Eric Cantor! Cantor’s defeat showed that the system really did work and that even the House majority leader can lose a can’t-lose contest if he has an extremely irritating personality and spends the first half of Election Day out of town having breakfast with lobbyists. So there’s that.

Everyone’s been wondering whether California’s new nonpartisan primary system will improve the caliber of candidates, including long-shot challengers. We will see. This fall, in the district that includes Santa Barbara, Lois Capps, the Democratic incumbent, is facing Chris Mitchum, the 70-year-old son of Robert Mitchum whose own acting career included an important role in “Real Men Don’t Eat Gummi Bears.” It’s a liberal district, and Chris Mitchum is a Tea Party stalwart who claims he was blacklisted by Hollywood for having accepted a part in a John Wayne movie. Really, Carolyn Maloney constituents, thank your lucky stars.

But we were talking about the metaphysical implications of the panda controversy.

The biggest of which involves an important detail: Maloney is not literally getting anything in China. “It’s a long-term project,” said a spokesman. “She will not be returning from this particular trip with a panda.”

Democrat proposes panda. Republican complains about panda. There actually is no panda. It’s the circle of life.

Blow and Krugman

August 4, 2014

In “The Do-Even-Less Congress” Mr. Blow says legislating is only a hobby for members of this deliberative body.  Prof. Krugman considers “Obama’s Other Success” and says the Dodd-Frank financial reforms have probably gotten worse press than Obamacare, but they, too, are working.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Congress is a joke. But the joke isn’t funny — unless, of course, you’re into dark humor.

The entire legislative body has been consumed by kvetching, at the expense of actual legislating. And the numbers that highlight this reality are simply atrocious.

According to a Pew Research Center report issued Thursday:

“As of Wednesday the current Congress had enacted 142 laws, the fewest of any Congress in the past two decades over an equivalent time span. And only 108 of those enactments were substantive pieces of legislation, under our deliberately broad criteria (no post-office renamings, anniversary commemorations or other purely ceremonial laws).”

President Obama has felt it necessary to veto only two bills since becoming president. That is fewer than any president since James Garfield in 1881, who vetoed none. But Garfield’s term lasted only 200 days before his death, and he was struck more than two months earlier by an assassin’s bullets.

Part of the reason for the dearth of vetoes is the dearth of legislation making it to the president’s desk. And this is in part because of the ever-shrinking periods of time that Congress is in session.

As a New York Times article declared in January, “The ‘do nothing’ Congress is preparing to do even less.”

The House of Representatives is scheduled to be in session even fewer days than last year’s depressingly low 135 days. That’s right: The House is underperforming even last session’s underperformance. Last December, The New York Times’s Jeremy W. Peters crunched the numbers and found:

“Not counting brief, pro forma sessions, the House was in session for 942 hours, an average of about 28 hours each week that it conducted business in Washington.”

Tell that to the average American full-time worker busting his or her hump working more than 1,700 hours a year. And the average American is laboring for only a fraction of the $174,000 most members of Congress bring home.

The Senate didn’t fare much better than the House in Peters’s analysis:

“By a similar measure, the Senate was near its recorded lows for days on the floor. Senators have spent 99 days casting votes this year, close to the recent low point for a nonelection year in 1991, when there were 95 voting days.”

And yet, as much as the president has been criticized for his recent fund-raising efforts, members of Congress are making the time to do the same. As ABC News reported last week:

“Republicans and Democrats in Congress are holding at least 100 fund-raisers in Washington in the days leading up to the August recess, according to fund-raising lists obtained by ABC News, with senators who aren’t even on the ballot in 2014 holding events.”

Part of the problem with Washington is a manifestation of polarization.

A June Pew study found that “Republicans and Democrats are more divided along ideological lines — and partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive — than at any point in the last two decades.” And that polarized public is represented by an increasingly polarized Congress. According to the political scientists Christopher Hare, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal, “Congress is now more polarized than at any time since the end of Reconstruction.”

The polarization has bastardized the meaning of compromise. The June Pew poll found that the more liberal people were, the more they preferred politicians who compromise, and the more conservative Americans were, the more they preferred politicians who stick to their positions. And yet, a majority of those who were consistently liberal and those who were consistently conservative thought that an ideal compromise was tantamount to their getting more of what they wanted than the other side.

There is no longer a real middle.

This is not to say that there is some equivalency between left and right when it comes to hostility and intransigence. As I see it, what middle remains has been dragged so far right that it doesn’t feel like a real middle anymore. America in general may be becoming more liberal on a variety of social issues, but there is a strident and forceful push to dial back the clock — or at least prevent it from moving forward — from a new strain of conservative politicians and the people who support them.

There is still time for this Congress to get more things done. As Pew pointed out: “Among the past seven Congresses, between 39 percent and 59 percent of all the substantive laws they passed came in the last five months of their respective two-year terms; the average was 49 percent.”

But I’m not holding my breath. Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full-time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Although the enemies of health reform will never admit it, the Affordable Care Act is looking more and more like a big success. Costs are coming in below predictions, while the number of uninsured Americans is dropping fast, especially in states that haven’t tried to sabotage the program. Obamacare is working.

But what about the administration’s other big push, financial reform? The Dodd-Frank reform bill has, if anything, received even worse press than Obamacare, derided by the right as anti-business and by the left as hopelessly inadequate. And like Obamacare, it’s certainly not the reform you would have devised in the absence of political constraints.

But also like Obamacare, financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine. Let’s talk, in particular, about two important pieces of Dodd-Frank: creation of an agency protecting consumers from misleading or fraudulent financial sales pitches, and efforts to end “too big to fail.”

The decision to create a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shouldn’t have been controversial, given what happened during the housing boom. As Edward M. Gramlich, a Federal Reserve official who warned prophetically of problems in subprime lending, asked, “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers?” He went on, “The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.” The need for more protection was obvious.

Of course, that obvious need didn’t stop the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, financial industry lobbyists and conservative groups from going all out in an effort to prevent the bureau’s creation or at least stop it from doing its job, spending more than $1.3 billion in the process. Republicans in Congress dutifully served the industry’s interests, notably by trying to prevent President Obama from appointing a permanent director. And the question was whether all that opposition would hobble the new bureau and make it ineffective.

At this point, however, all accounts indicate that the bureau is in fact doing its job, and well — well enough to inspire continuing fury among bankers and their political allies. A recent case in point: The bureau is cracking down on billions in excessive overdraft fees.

Better consumer protection means fewer bad loans, and therefore a reduced risk of financial crisis. But what happens if a crisis occurs anyway?

The answer is that, as in 2008, the government will step in to keep the financial system functioning; nobody wants to take the risk of repeating the Great Depression.

But how do you rescue the banking system without rewarding bad behavior? In particular, rescues in times of crisis can give large financial players an unfair advantage: They can borrow cheaply in normal times, because everyone knows that they are “too big to fail” and will be bailed out if things go wrong.

The answer is that the government should seize troubled institutions when it bails them out, so that they can be kept running without rewarding stockholders or bondholders who don’t need rescue. In 2008 and 2009, however, it wasn’t clear that the Treasury Department had the necessary legal authority to do that. So Dodd-Frank filled that gap, giving regulators Ordinary Liquidation Authority, also known as resolution authority, so that in the next crisis we can save “systemically important” banks and other institutions without bailing out the bankers.

Bankers, of course, hate this idea; and Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell tried to help their friends with the Orwellian claim that resolution authority was actually a gift to Wall Street, a form of corporate welfare, because it would grease the skids for future bailouts.

But Wall Street knew better. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute points out, if being labeled systemically important were actually corporate welfare, institutions would welcome the designation; in fact, they have fought it tooth and nail. And a new study from the Government Accountability Office shows that while large banks were able to borrow more cheaply than small banks before financial reform passed, that advantage has now essentially disappeared. To some extent this may reflect generally calmer markets, but the study nonetheless suggests that reform has done at least part of what it was supposed to do.

Did reform go far enough? No. In particular, while banks are being forced to hold more capital, a key force for stability, they really should be holding much more. But Wall Street and its allies wouldn’t be screaming so loudly, and spending so much money in an effort to gut the law, if it weren’t an important step in the right direction. For all its limitations, financial reform is a success story.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

July 31, 2014

In “Age of Identity” Mr. Blow says the struggle against conformity and control is a shared, unifying experience.  Mr. Kristof has a question in “Our Blind Spot About Guns:”  We have made cars safer with sensible regulations. Why can’t we do the same with guns?  Well, Nick, you’re a respected columnist for The Newspaper of Record.  Go ask Wayne LaPierre — I’m sure he’d give you an interview.  Ms. Collins says “None Dare Call it Impeachment,” and that whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you’ve surely heard the utterance of the I-word recently.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“Hair is political.”

That was the line that stuck with me when my 17-year-old daughter recently regaled me with the minutiae of a lighthearted argument she’d had with a friend. It was about my daughter’s staunch resistance to straightening or altering her hair in any way.

The friend had insisted that such alterations were no big deal, to which my daughter took umbrage and shot back, “Hair is political.”

In my daughter’s view, such alterations were a sign of suppressive concepts of worth and beauty of which she would have no part. Presenting herself as nature made her was an act of self-loving defiance that demanded not her alteration but the alteration of others’ attitudes about how we expect people to bend in order to belong, about how many destructive subliminal messages we’ve all absorbed and how we must search ourselves for the truth of our own prejudices.

It reminded me of the profound commentary on the subject by the actress Tracie Thoms in Chris Rock’s 2009 documentary “Good Hair”: “To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary. Why is that?”

But to me, my daughter’s message was bigger than her, or hair, or a debate between teenagers. It was a life lesson that we all have to learn, over and over: Self-acceptance, of all stripes, large and small, is always an inherently political and profoundly revolutionary act.

We are so suffused in a mix of misogyny, patriarchy, racism, sexism, homophobia and hetero-normative exclusionary idealism that we can easily lose sight of the singular acts of ordinary bravery that each of us displays every time we choose not to play along.

Life is an endless negotiation with ourselves and with the world about who we are — the truest truth of who we are — and whether we have the mettle to simply be us, all of us, as we are, backlash notwithstanding.

And every time we answer “yes” to the question of courage, we stand an inch taller and we rise closer to the light.

In fact, Michaela Angela Davis, a self-described “image activist,” calls this the “Age of Identity and Intersections.”

It is a time when more people are asserting themselves as nonconformists as they recognize that there is a variety of intersections to subjugation. It’s a twist on the idea of diversity: not simply honoring a variety of origins as positive, but uniting under a banner that reminds us that the diminution of the very concept of variance has been a historical tool of psychic violence against those deemed “different.”

It is about developing kinship and alliance among the historically alienated.

It is about understanding that open hatred of — or even subtle, sometimes subconscious devaluing of — women, minorities (racial, ethnic, religious or otherwise) and people who don’t hew to sexual or gender norms are not discrete dysfunctions, but are of a kind, a cousin of flawed consciousness.

And when that is understood, the fight against them all becomes more focused. You stop hacking at the branches and start digging at the root.

Sometimes, when we are confronted by another overt act of intolerance in the news — another racial epithet, a further effort to erode women’s access to a full range of reproductive options, one more state attempting to hold on to its bans against marriage equality, another manifestation of rape culture — it can seem that we are going backward in this fight rather than forward.

But I don’t think so. I think that, as the saying goes, it’s darkest before the dawn, that these cases stand out not necessarily because they are growing, but because they are so at odds with this country’s moral trajectory. (Although, it must be said that there are increasing efforts, particularly in Republican-controlled states, to restrict women’s health care.)

Young people in America are growing up in a country that is quickly becoming brown, where women outnumber men in colleges, where acknowledgment of sexual identity is increasingly met with shrugs.

This doesn’t mean that they are immune to bias, but it does give hope that bias will diminish as difference becomes more mainstream, historical privileges become more identified and gender roles become less rigid.

That is why I greet with overwhelming optimism the continuous stream of people who refuse to conform and who insist on acknowledgment of their own identities, as they are, in all of their inherent glories and by way of their “revolutionary acts.”

E.E. Cummings once put it: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

And when we understand that that struggle against conformity and control is a shared, unifying experience, the accomplishment is made a little bit easier — and a whole lot sweeter.

Truth is political.

And has an obvious liberal bias…  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

If we had the same auto fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

Instead, we’ve reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent — not by confiscating cars, but by regulating them and their drivers sensibly.

We could have said, “Cars don’t kill people. People kill people,” and there would have been an element of truth to that. Many accidents are a result of alcohol consumption, speeding, road rage or driver distraction. Or we could have said, “It’s pointless because even if you regulate cars, then people will just run each other down with bicycles,” and that, too, would have been partly true.

Yet, instead, we built a system that protects us from ourselves. This saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year and is a model of what we should do with guns in America.

Whenever I write about the need for sensible regulation of guns, some readers jeer: Cars kill people, too, so why not ban cars? Why are you so hypocritical as to try to take away guns from law-abiding people when you don’t seize cars?

That question is a reflection of our national blind spot about guns. The truth is that we regulate cars quite intelligently, instituting evidence-based measures to reduce fatalities. Yet the gun lobby is too strong, or our politicians too craven, to do the same for guns. So guns and cars now each kill more than 30,000 in America every year.

One constraint, the argument goes, is the Second Amendment. Yet the paradox is that a bit more than a century ago, there was no universally recognized individual right to bear arms in the United States, but there was widely believed to be a “right to travel” that allowed people to drive cars without regulation.

A court struck down an early attempt to require driver’s licenses, and initial attempts to set speed limits or register vehicles were met with resistance and ridicule. When authorities in New York City sought in 1899 to ban horseless carriages in the parks, the idea was lambasted in The New York Times as “devoid of merit” and “impossible to maintain.

Yet, over time, it became increasingly obvious that cars were killing and maiming people, as well as scaring horses and causing accidents. As a distinguished former congressman, Robert Cousins, put it in 1910: “Pedestrians are menaced every minute of the days and nights by a wanton recklessness of speed, crippling and killing people at a rate that is appalling.”

Courts and editorial writers alike saw the carnage and agreed that something must be done. By the 1920s, courts routinely accepted driver’s license requirements, car registration and other safety measures.

That continued in recent decades with requirements of seatbelts and air bags, padded dashboards and better bumpers. We cracked down on drunken drivers and instituted graduated licensing for young people, while also improving road engineering to reduce accidents. The upshot is that there is now just over 1 car fatality per 100 million miles driven.

Yet as we’ve learned to treat cars intelligently, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with guns. In his terrific new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Michael Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that “gun control laws were ubiquitous” in the 19th century. Visitors to Wichita, Kan., for example, were required to check their revolvers at police headquarters.

And Dodge City, symbol of the Wild West? A photo shows a sign on the main street in 1879 warning: “The Carrying of Fire Arms Strictly Prohibited.”

The National Rifle Association supported reasonable gun control for most of its history and didn’t even oppose the landmark Gun Control Act of 1968. But, since then, most attempts at safety regulation have stalled or gone backward, and that makes the example of cars instructive.

“We didn’t ban cars, or send black helicopters to confiscate them,” notes Waldman. “We made cars safer: air bags, seatbelts, increasing the drinking age, lowering the speed limit. There are similar technological and behavioral fixes that can ease the toll of gun violence, from expanded background checks to trigger locks to smart guns that recognize a thumbprint, just like my iPhone does.”

Some of these should be doable. A Quinnipiac poll this month found 92 percent support for background checks for all gun buyers.

These steps won’t eliminate gun deaths any more than seatbelts eliminate auto deaths. But if a combination of measures could reduce the toll by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved every year.

A century ago, we reacted to deaths and injuries from unregulated vehicles by imposing sensible safety measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives a year. Why can’t we ask politicians to be just as rational about guns?

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Let’s talk about something cheerful. How about impeachment?

Hey, it’s been a depressing month for news. If you want to look on the bright side, you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.

The possibility of actual impeachment is not something that keeps Barack Obama up at night. Modern history suggests there’s nothing Congress could do that the American public would hate more. Yet impeachment talk has been bounding around the Republican right for ages. The South Dakota Republican Party passed a resolution calling for impeachment at their annual convention this year. (We all know the famous saying: “As South Dakota goes, so goes North Dakota.”) Sarah Palin brings up impeachment virtually every day. Some members of Congress use it to energize the crazy base.

For instance, Representative Ted Yoho of Florida once posted a list of arguments for impeachment on his campaign website. I am mentioning this in part because it’s always fun to write “Ted Yoho.” Also because I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to note that during his previous election season, Ted Yoho told a church group that he wished the right to vote was limited to property owners.

Last week, the Democrats started picking up the impeachment banner in the form of pretending to take the Republican threats seriously. White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said it would be “foolish to discount the possibility.” Democratic fund-raisers sent out warnings of impending impeachment danger to their own base and were tickled by the enthusiastic response.

Now, Republican leaders are desperately trying to change the subject. The House speaker, John Boehner, called impeachment talk “a scam started by Democrats at the White House.” Karl Rove claimed Obama was trying to create a “constitutional crisis where none exists.”

“Do you think anyone in Washington in the G.O.P. is serious about impeachment?” demanded the radio host Glenn Beck. “Do you think one person? Have you spoken to one person? No one. So who wants it? The president does.” Actually, as Kendall Breitman pointed out in Politico, Beck had called for impeachment his very own self about a year earlier.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the majority party was busy showing the nation its serious side by voting to sue President Obama for violating the Constitution. Look, everybody has their own way of demonstrating that they’re sticking to the business at hand. Republicans are upset about the president’s attempt to deal with problems by executive order when Congress fails to address them with legislation. Obama’s record when it comes to executive orders is actually rather paltry compared with some of his Republican predecessors. Nevertheless, the Republicans have many, many complaints, all of which involve mention of the founding fathers.

You could not help but suspect that if Speaker Boehner had it to do all over again, he’d never have brought this idea up. Democrats cheerfully urged a really, really long debate on the subject, but the Republican-dominated Rules Committee decided that the whole thing should be dispatched with as quickly as possible. So fast, in fact, that it gave the lawsuit against the president the same debate time as a bill on deregulating pesticides.

The Republicans focused on — yes! — the founding fathers. It was, said Representative Candice Miller of Michigan, a battle against “tyranny, Mr. Speaker. Tyranny.” She is the leader of the Committee on House Administration, the only woman to lead a House committee under the current leadership. We will not dwell on the fact that Miller’s committee is basically in charge of housekeeping.

Meanwhile, the Democrats kept bringing up the I-word. “I sincerely believe that you are trying to set the stage for a despicable impeachment proceeding,” said Representative G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina. Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, the House Rules chairman, denied that suing the president was a step on the slippery slope to impeachment. He did that by defending the impeachment of President Clinton, which was, of course, so exceedingly successful that Clinton now is the most popular individual in the nation except perhaps for Boo the World’s Cutest Dog and the hamster that eats tiny burritos.

Rather than suing the president for everything he’s ever done, the Republicans tried to improve their legal prospects by picking a particular executive order. They settled on the one postponing enforcement of part of Obamacare that requires businesses to provide health coverage for their employees. “Are you willing to let any president choose what laws to execute and what laws to change?” demanded Boehner.

“Not a single one of them voted for the Affordable Care Act,” said Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee. “They spent $ 79 million holding votes to kill it. And now they’re going to sue him for not implementing it fast enough.”

We will look back on this moment in Washington as The Week That Irony Died.

Blow and Krugman

July 28, 2014

In “The Fight Over ‘Impeachment Lite’ ” Mr. Blow says as politics, House Republicans’ threat to sue the president may work best for Democrats.  Prof. Krugman, in “Corporate Artful Dodgers,” takes a look at a loophole so big whole companies can slip through.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Rather than getting on with the country’s business and focusing solely on can’t-wait issues before they jet out of town this weekend — like the unfinished bill to fix veterans’ health care and the stalled bill to deal with the humanitarian crisis of Central American children arriving at the border — House Republicans are gearing up for a grand maneuver: an apparently unprecedented move by the House to sue the president over his use of executive orders.

Talk about misplaced priorities.

But this isn’t about the public’s priorities, not even close. This is about base-voter activation; this is about midterm turnout. The president’s most ardent opposition wants more punishing actions taken. There is an insatiable vengeance-lust for the haughty president who refuses to bend under pressure or fold under duress.

He must be brought to heel. He must be chastened. He must be broken. So, House Republicans are throwing the red meat into the cage.

Even Paul Ryan, fresh off his “Opportunity Grant” move to address poverty in this country — a plan that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said “would likely increase poverty and hardship” rather than decrease it — said Friday that he would vote for the measure to sue the president.

I’m not sure Ryan is aware that people making less than $30,000 a year voted for President Obama nearly two to one over his opponents in 2008 and 2012. Low-income people are President Obama’s people. You can’t make a show of supposedly extending them a hand one day and use that hand to take a slap at their political hero the next. Or maybe you can, if your sense of cognitive dissonance is strong enough.

The White House is returning in kind, picking up the language of the most extreme among the far right to invoke the word “impeachment.”

Dan Pfeiffer, the Obama administration senior adviser, said Friday, “I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to impeachment sometime in the future.”

It should be noted that most senior Republican leaders are not clamoring for impeachment — and John Boehner has flatly ruled it out, for now — but the idea that a lawsuit is akin to “impeachment lite” is one Democrats would love to take hold for the same reason that the lawsuit exists in the first place: politics.

But the concept isn’t completely without underpinning. In a recent Los Angeles Times article titled “Why Experts See Little Hope for G.O.P. Plan to Sue Obama Over Law’s Delay,” David G. Savage pointed out: “While the Constitution does not authorize the legislative branch to sue the president, it says the House of Representatives may vote on articles of impeachment if it believes the president has committed ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ If Republicans believe Obama has broken the law, impeachment is the appropriate vehicle, analysts say.”

Adding an unprecedented legal maneuver to a long list of what Democrats view as extraordinary slights against this particular president is likely to excite a liberal base in dire need of excitement.

As a report by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press pointed out: “Barack Obama is as powerful a motivating factor for Republican voters as he was in 2010: about half (51 percent) of those who say they will vote Republican this fall consider their vote as a vote ‘against’ Obama, little changed from June 2010 (52 percent). And Obama has become a less positive factor for Democrats — 36 percent of those who plan to vote for the Democrat in their district view their vote as being ‘for’ Obama, down from 44 percent four years ago.”

But the anti-Obama Republican lawsuit could change all that.

A CNN/ORC poll released Friday found that while 45 percent of respondents said they believed the president had gone too far in expanding the power of the presidency and the executive branch, 52 percent believed that he “has been about right” or “has not gone far enough.”

For comparison, in 2006, the sixth year of the George W. Bush administration, 48 percent believed that he had gone too far, while just as many thought he was about right or hadn’t gone far enough.

Furthermore, only 41 percent of Americans believe House Republicans should sue the president, as opposed to 57 percent who believe they shouldn’t.

And if you believe that the lawsuit is simply, as some have called it, “impeachment lite,” the public truly has no appetite for that. Respondents in the CNN/ORC poll opposed impeachment by nearly two to one.

This may all be political theater, but in this act Democrats appear to have the most compelling lines.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

In recent decisions, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has made clear its view that corporations are people, with all the attendant rights. They are entitled to free speech, which in their case means spending lots of money to bend the political process to their ends. They are entitled to religious beliefs, including those that mean denying benefits to their workers. Up next, the right to bear arms?

There is, however, one big difference between corporate persons and the likes of you and me: On current trends, we’re heading toward a world in which only the human people pay taxes.

We’re not quite there yet: The federal government still gets a tenth of its revenue from corporate profits taxation. But it used to get a lot more — a third of revenue came from profits taxes in the early 1950s, a quarter or more well into the 1960s. Part of the decline since then reflects a fall in the tax rate, but mainly it reflects ever-more-aggressive corporate tax avoidance — avoidance that politicians have done little to prevent.

Which brings us to the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion.” This refers to a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

The most important thing to understand about inversion is that it does not in any meaningful sense involve American business “moving overseas.” Consider the case of Walgreen, the giant drugstore chain that, according to multiple reports, is on the verge of making itself legally Swiss. If the plan goes through, nothing about the business will change; your local pharmacy won’t close and reopen in Zurich. It will be a purely paper transaction — but it will deprive the U.S. government of several billion dollars in revenue that you, the taxpayer, will have to make up one way or another.

Does this mean President Obama is wrong to describe companies engaging in inversion as “corporate deserters”? Not really — they’re shirking their civic duty, and it doesn’t matter whether they literally move abroad or not. But apologists for inversion, who tend to claim that high taxes are driving businesses out of America, are indeed talking nonsense. These businesses aren’t moving production or jobs overseas — and they’re still earning their profits right here in the U.S.A. All they’re doing is dodging taxes on those profits.

And Congress could crack down on this tax dodge — it’s already illegal for a company to claim that its legal domicile is someplace where it has little real business, and tightening the criteria for declaring a company non-American could block many of the inversions now taking place. So is there any reason not to stop this gratuitous loss of revenue? No.

Opponents of a crackdown on inversion typically argue that instead of closing loopholes we should reform the whole system by which we tax profits, and maybe stop taxing profits altogether. They also tend to argue that taxing corporate profits hurts investment and job creation. But these are very bad arguments against ending the practice of inversion.

First of all, there are some good reasons to tax profits. In general, U.S. taxes favor unearned income from capital over earned income from wages; the corporate tax helps redress this imbalance. We could, in principle, maintain taxes on unearned income if we offset cuts in corporate taxes with substantially higher tax rates on income from capital gains and dividends — but this would be an imperfect fix, and in any case, given the state of our politics, this just isn’t going to happen.

Furthermore, ending profits taxation would greatly increase the power of corporate executives. Is this really something we want to do?

As for reforming the system: Yes, that would be a good idea. But the case for eventual reform basically has nothing to do with the case for closing the inversion loophole right now. After all, there are big debates about the shape of reform, debates that would take years to resolve even if we didn’t have a Republican Party that reliably opposes anything the president proposes, even if it was something Republicans were for just a few years ago. Why let corporations avoid paying their fair share for years, while we wait for the logjam to break?

Finally, none of this has anything to do with investment and job creation. If and when Walgreen changes its “citizenship,” it will get to keep more of its profits — but it will have no incentive to invest those extra profits in its U.S. operations.

So this should be easy. By all means let’s have a debate about how and how much to tax profits. Meanwhile, however, let’s close this outrageous loophole.

And because of earlier effups, FYWP.


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