Friedman and Bruni

September 2, 2015

In “Our Radical Islamic BFF, Saudi Arabia” TMOW says the greatest purveyors of radical Islam aren’t the Iranians, as a general says. The Saudis win that title hands down.  Well, put me in the oven and call me a biscuit…  I never thought I’d live to see the day that a Very Serious Person actually said that out loud, in front of God and everyone.  Mr. Bruni, in “The Joe Biden Delusion,” says thed vice president commands enormous affection. That doesn’t mean he can win the Democratic presidential nomination.  Here’s TMOW:

The Washington Post ran a story last week about some 200 retired generals and admirals who sent a letter to Congress “urging lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear agreement, which they say threatens national security.” There are legitimate arguments for and against this deal, but there was one argument expressed in this story that was so dangerously wrongheaded about the real threats to America from the Middle East, it needs to be called out.

That argument was from Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, the retired former vice commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who said of the nuclear accord: “What I don’t like about this is, the number one leading radical Islamic group in the world is the Iranians. They are purveyors of radical Islam throughout the region and throughout the world. And we are going to enable them to get nuclear weapons.”

Sorry, General, but the title greatest “purveyors of radical Islam” does not belong to the Iranians. Not even close. That belongs to our putative ally Saudi Arabia.

When it comes to Iran’s involvement in terrorism, I have no illusions: I covered firsthand the 1983 suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, both believed to be the handiwork of Iran’s cat’s paw, Hezbollah. Iran’s terrorism, though — vis-à-vis the U.S. — has always been of the geopolitical variety: war by other means to push the U.S. out of the region so Iran can dominate it, not us.

I support the Iran nuclear deal because it reduces the chances of Iran building a bomb for 15 years and creates the possibility that Iran’s radical religious regime can be moderated through more integration with the world.

But if you think Iran is the only source of trouble in the Middle East, you must have slept through 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.

It is not an accident that several thousand Saudis have joined the Islamic State or that Arab Gulf charities have sent ISIS donations. It is because all these Sunni jihadist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front — are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia.

And we, America, have never called them on that — because we’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.

“Let’s avoid hyperbole when describing one enemy or potential enemy as the greatest source of instability,” said Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, who is an expert on Islam at the Hudson Institute.

“It is an oversimplification,” he said. “While Iran has been a source of terrorism in supporting groups like Hezbollah, many American allies have been a source of terrorism by supporting Wahhabi ideology, which basically destroyed the pluralism that emerged in Islam since the 14thcentury, ranging from Bektashi Islam in Albania, which believes in living with other religions, to Sufi and Shiite Islam.

“The last few decades have seen this attempt to homogenize Islam,” claiming “there is only one legitimate path to God,” Haqqani said. And when there is only one legitimate path, “all others are open to being killed. That has been the single most dangerous idea that has emerged in the Muslim world, and it came out of Saudi Arabia and has been embraced by others, including the government in Pakistan.”

Consider this July 16, 2014, story in The Times from Beirut: “For decades, Saudi Arabia has poured billions of its oil dollars into sympathetic Islamic organizations around the world, quietly practicing checkbook diplomacy to advance its agenda. But a trove of thousands of Saudi documents recently released by WikiLeaks reveals in surprising detail how the government’s goal in recent years was not just to spread its strict version of Sunni Islam — though that was a priority — but also to undermine its primary adversary: Shiite Iran.”

Or consider this Dec 5, 2010, report on BBC.com: “U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned last year in a leaked classified memo that donors in Saudi Arabia were the ‘most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.’ She said it was ‘an ongoing challenge’ to persuade Saudi officials to treat such activity as a strategic priority. The groups funded include al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, she added.”

Saudi Arabia has been an American ally on many issues and there are moderates there who detest its religious authorities. But the fact remains that Saudi Arabia’s export of Wahhabi puritanical Islam has been one of the worst things to happen to Muslim and Arab pluralism — pluralism of religious thought, gender and education — in the last century.

Iran’s nuclear ambition is a real threat; it needs to be corralled. But don’t buy into the nonsense that it’s the only source of instability in this region.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Many politicians seem intent on holding themselves as far back from us as possible, on parceling themselves out in only the smallest and most controlled bits. Even as they implore us to love them and insist that we trust them, they’re stingy. Cagey. Coiled.

Not Joe Biden. Where others say too little, he says too much. Where others depend on extravagantly compensated swamis to contrive their authenticity and coax them toward it, Biden needs help tamping down his irrepressible self.

How I’ve loved watching him over his decades in public life.

How I’d hate to see him enter the presidential race and punctuate those years with a final defeat.

Biden, Biden, Biden. The drumbeat swells, coming from all directions, even from Dick Cheney. He recently did an interview with CNN, the first snippets of which were shown on Monday, and offered Biden the following counsel about 2016: “Go for it.” This is probably the most compelling evidence that Biden shouldn’t. When Cheney itches for an intervention, beware.

Biden’s own moves, including a scheduled appearance next Thursday on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” further stoke speculation and hopes.

But while many Democrats have enormous respect for him and he’s done plenty to deserve it, this isn’t really about him. It’s about Hillary Clinton: her presumptuousness, the whole email mess, the sloppy administration of the Clinton Foundation, the sense that scandals are as inextricable from her political identity as pantsuits.

Some Democratic leaders and operatives would desperately like an alternative — an alternative, that is, with better general-election prospects than a 73-year-old socialist with little support from minorities. Martin O’Malley hasn’t come through: He might as well be an apparition for all the impact he’s made. Someone else is needed. Cue the Biden talk.

We journalists eagerly amplify it, because nothing improves a narrative like the addition of an especially colorful character. We disingenuously pretend that his favorability ratings and other flattering poll results have the same meaning as corresponding numbers for Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

They don’t, because he’s a hypothetical candidate and they’re actual ones, and it’s the difference between a courtship in its dawn and a marriage in its dusk. Once someone has really moved into the house and is leaving dirty dishes in the sink, the electricity dims and everything droops.

Even while drooping, Clinton holds onto a great deal of support, and she stands on the very territory that Biden, to get the nomination, would need.

“He’s neither to the left of her, where the energy of the party is, nor is he newer than her,” one Democratic strategist said. “He personifies neither progressivity nor change. And you need to have one of the two — preferably, both — to win.”

Clinton’s familiarity is mitigated by the possibility that she’d make history: the first woman in the White House. Biden has nothing like that going for him.

He’s a profoundly awkward fit for this strange political moment, this season of outsiders and insurgents.

Voters are sour on career politicians, and Biden’s career in politics spans about 45 uninterrupted years.

Voters are anti-Washington in particular, and more than 42 of those years have been spent in the national’s capital, as a senator from Delaware and then as the vice president.

Aspects of his legislative record are more troubling for him now than ever before. As Nicholas Fandos noted in a recent story in The Times, Biden pushed for, and later crowed about, tough-on-crime legislation in the 1980s and 1990s that preceded the mass incarceration of today. That would be a wedge between him and the Democratic Party’s black voters especially.

And as Steve Eder noted in another recent story in The Times, Biden was, of necessity, an ambassador for the financial services industry in Delaware. That hardly positions him to win the favor of liberal Democrats who yearn for a crackdown on Wall Street.

Biden has twice before pursued the Democratic nomination and never won a single state. The last time, in 2008, he got less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses and then quickly dropped out.

And while much about circumstances and about Biden has changed since then, what hasn’t, at least not significantly, is the uncorked, uncensored quality that contributed to his troubles before.

He rolls his eyes. He reaches out with his hands. He talks and talks, in sentences that sometimes go too far, with words that haven’t been weighed as carefully as they could be. The route from his brain to his lips is direct and swift. None of the usual traffic cones there.

Sometimes this is enervating. Mostly it’s endearing. For better or worse, it’s not the means to a promotion, not for this remarkable man at this remarkable time.

Krugman’s blog, 8/31/15

September 1, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “The China Debt Zombie:”

Matthew Klein notes that Very Serious People are now worried that China’s troubles, which have caused it to switch rather suddenly from a buyer of Treasuries to a seller, will cause U.S. interest rates to spike. He rightly finds this unconvincing. What he doesn’t note is we’re looking at another instance of an economic zombie in action.

For the new concern about China is, in economic terms, the same as the old concern – that the Chinese could destroy our economy by cutting off funding, either for political reasons or out of disgust over our budget deficits. This always reflected a fundamental failure to understand the economic logic, as was pointed out many times not just by yours truly (and much earlier here)but also by people likeDan Drezner. But scare stories about our supposed financial dependence on China just keep shambling along, propounded by people who don’t even realize that there are other views, let alone that they’re talking nonsense.

Brooks and Nocera

September 1, 2015

Who better than Bobo to discuss Hillary Clinton?  (Well, there’s always MoDo’s foaming, gibbering rage but we’re trying for minimal coherence…)  In “Hillary Clinton, the Great Defender” Bobo gurgles that she has been playing defense most of her political career, and that’s given her strengths. But that mind-set also hurts her.  Of course there’s no mention of the fact that she’s been playing defense because of a series of trumped-up “scandals” ginned up by people that Bobo loves…  Mr. Nocera, in “Baylor, Football and the Rape Case of Sam Ukwuachu,” says the university didn’t let on about the accusation for nearly two years, but with its player’s conviction, it’s suddenly indignant and taking action.  Here’s Bobo:

Hillary Clinton has obviously had a bad summer. She’s losing in New Hampshire to Bernie Sanders, even among women. She’s barely leading him in Iowa. In a Quinnipiac poll of potential general election matchups, she’s beating Donald Trump by only four points, 45 to 41, and she’s beating Marco Rubio by only one point.

The conventional Democratic muck-a-muck view is that she horribly mishandled the private email server issue. That’s part of it, but the polling shows a much more pervasive personal set of weaknesses. In an AP/GfK poll, only 40 percent of Americans think she is compassionate. Only 30 percent say she is honest. In a variety of polls, many voters say she just doesn’t get people like them, usually the key Democratic strength.

Not all of these troubles are her fault. It’s tough to run as a member of the establishment in this time of popular disgust with establishments (ask Jeb Bush). But Clinton’s campaign nonetheless has a distinct aura. Maybe next to Michael Dukakis’s, it is the least romantic, poetic and uplifting Democratic campaign in decades.

All descriptions of her campaigns have to start with the fact that for most of Clinton’s political career she has been playing defense. Sometimes she’s had to defend herself from critical barrages amid scandal: Whitewater and the Rose Law Firm records straight through to Benghazi and the email server. Other times she’s had to endure emotional and media exposures sparked by her husband’s escapades.

Even when she ran for president in 2008, she was on the defense against the Obama tide. She campaigned best when the Obama tide was strongest and she was forced to struggle against it.

This pattern of playing on the defensive side of the ball has given her real strengths — she has endured and persevered and rarely bent. But this defensive posture has given her, at least in public, an embattled combative posture, and sometimes an air of reactiveness.

In her campaign speeches she describes a political, economic and global world that is red in tooth and claw. The main traits required to survive in this struggle against the contemptible foes are tenacity, toughness and calculation. There is a pervasive us/them assumption in her speeches, and the need for armoring up. The defining verb in her political campaign is “fight.”

In speeches she is at her best when describing people who have been pushed to the wall by circumstances — the single mom who is trying to find a way to pay for day care, the college student deluged with rising tuition costs. She can be quite funny in her speeches, but her humor is the humor of the counterattack — mostly sarcastic humor aimed at Republicans, the press and her critics.

The ironic fact is that she now bears the subliminal weight of scandals more heavily than Bill. That’s in part because he at least gives the appearance of putting any resentments he might have about them in the past. He seems emotionally loose, open and trusting. She often does not give that impression.

Even the campaign posture bears signs of this defensive mind-set. The walls around her inner circle are high. Gov. Martin O’Malley is certainly right when he says it is shocking that the Democratic primary process will feature a mere four debates before the first four states complete voting — a wall of protectiveness to seal off the front-runner.

This linebacker mentality means she is strong when she talks about defending, say, Social Security, and she has no illusions in foreign affairs. But there is little of the high-minded earnestness of the Adlai Stevenson campaigns, the futuristic aspiration of the John Kennedy campaign, the grand ambition of the Lyndon Johnson campaign, the new generation emotionality of Bill Clinton’s campaign or the uplifting hopefulness of the Barack Obama campaign.

We live in anxious times. You can respond to those times with a more radical political program, as Bernie Sanders is doing. You can answer with an anti-establishment burn-down-the-house campaign, as Donald Trump is doing. Or you can create a resurrection story, a creative narrative that builds a working majority on new grounds.

When Clinton was secretary of state it wasn’t clear whether she could go on offense and define a creative initiative in an open field. She hasn’t done that yet in this campaign, either. She hasn’t given voters a sense of an epic quest, an exodus to some promised land.

She’s still the prohibitive favorite to get the nomination, but we have yet to see if she can play offense. Campaigns do have to have some creative romance to them, an uplifting mood if not a new agenda. So far Clinton has not creatively defined a new field in front of the country. Instead, she’s left a void others are filling.

And now here’s Mr. Nocera:

On Aug. 21, a Baylor University football player named Sam Ukwuachu wassentenced to six months in the county jail and 10 years’ probation for sexually assaulting a freshman soccer player two years ago.

Although Ukwuachu pleaded not guilty to the charges, there wasn’t much doubt that “Jane Doe,” as she is referred to in court documents, had been raped. When she went to the hospital after the encounter, the examining nurse found “vaginal injuries, including redness, bleeding and friction injuries,” according to a powerful account in Texas Monthly. Jane Doe had been a virgin.

Her testimony during the short trial was nothing short of chilling. “He was using all of his strength to pull up my dress and do stuff to me,” she testified. “He had me on my stomach on the bed and he was on top of me.” Her head caught between the bed and a desk, she was “screaming ‘stop’ and ‘no’ ” as Ukwuachu raped her.

The day of Ukwuachu’s sentencing, Baylor’s president, Ken Starr — yes, the same Ken Starr who 17 years ago authored the lurid Starr Report about President Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky — issued a letter to the Baylor community denouncing “this unspeakable tragedy.” He insisted that Baylor works “tirelessly” to provide a safe environment and that perpetrators of sexual violence “will find no shelter on our campus.”

And then on Friday, Starr issued another statement, in which he announced the university would hire outside counsel to conduct an investigation. He also said Baylor would hire a full-time official to oversee “all student-athlete behavior.”

I will address the absurdity of the latter role shortly. But first, it’s worth taking a closer look at the case, which says a lot about the relationship between Baylor and its football team, very little of it good.

Is football big at Baylor? You bet it is. Its beautiful new McLane Stadium, opened last year, cost $266 million. The town of Waco, Tex., where Baylor is located, pretty much stops during a Baylor football game. Baylor’s top spokeswoman, Lori Fogleman, ends her voice mail message with an enthusiastic, “Sic ‘em Bears!”

The importance of having a good football team — and many prognosticators believe Baylor will be very good indeed this season — may help explain why it was willing to accept Ukwuachu in the first place. A talented defensive end, he had been dismissed from the Boise State team for undisclosed reasons, and conflicting accounts over the past two weeks have failed to clarify what Baylor knew about Ukwuachu at the time of his transfer.

During the trial, Ukwuachu’s former girlfriend at Boise State testified that he had been violently abusive with her, and records recently obtained by ESPN show Boise State officials were alarmed by Ukwuachu’s erratic and even suicidal behavior. According to the records, three days after he was given a diagnosis of a major depressive disorder, Ukwuachu was dismissed from the team. (Boise State insists it had no knowledge of the domestic abuse allegations at the time of Ukwuachu’s move to Baylor.).

In October 2013, while sitting out a year as a transfer, as required per N.C.A.A. rules, Ukwuachu raped Jane Doe. To be blunt, Baylor seemed mainly interested in protecting its football player. According to Texas Monthly, after conducting a few cursory interviews, and not even asking to look at the hospital rape kit, the school “cleared” Ukwuachu, as his lawyer later put it.

Not that anybody knew this, because Baylor said nothing publicly, not even after Ukwuachu’s indictment. In fact, when he failed to suit up for the 2014 season — and reporters began asking why — Baylor said only that he had “some issues.” Even with the indictment hanging over him, Ukwuachu was allowed to do conditioning work with the team.

As recently as this June, just two months before the trial, Baylor’s defensive coordinator said he expected the defensive end to play during the 2015 season. It was only as the trial was about to begin that The Waco Tribune-Herald reported Ukwuachu’s “issues” included a rape accusation.

Ken Starr was as complicit in the two-year-long silence as anybody in the Baylor athletic department, which makes his current “anguish” seem like little more than P.R. posturing. If you Google Starr, you’ll find plenty of pictures of him on the Baylor football field, cheering on the team.

But it’s at moments of crises like this one when people discover how a university, and its president, prioritizes athletics. Baylor, a Baptist school that professes to adhere to Christian principles, appears to have “sheltered” a “perpetrator,” to use Starr’s own words, because this particular perp might be able to help the team win a few games. It happens way too often.

As for the idea that someone has to be hired to monitor the behavior of the school’s 500 athletes — how, exactly, does Baylor propose to do that, send chaperones on their dates? — shouldn’t the real issue be who the school admits in the first place, and how forthrightly it acts when problems emerge? By this standard, Baylor’s response has been abysmal.

Indeed, judging by the Ukwuachu case, it’s not so much the athletes who need to have their behavior monitored. It’s Ken Starr’s administration.

Politeness forbids me from saying what I’d like to say about Ken Starr.

Krugman’s blog, 8/28 and 8/29/15

August 31, 2015

There was one post yesterday and two posts on Friday.  He didn’t post to his blog yesterday.  The first post on Friday was “1998 in 2015:”

David Beckworth has a good if possibly over-elaborate discussion of China’s flirtation with crisis. What I find striking is the extent to which China has managed to put itself into something like the situation many of its neighbors faced in the late 1990s. The renminbi “wants” to depreciate, partly because of a slowing economy and monetary easing, partly because of a crisis of confidence and capital flight. But Chinese authorities aren’t willing to let it drop all the way, perhaps because of fears of trade conflict but also perhaps because the private sector and state-owned enterprises now have a lot of foreign-currency debt.

What happened in 1997-1998 was that Asian depreciations turned into balance-sheet disasters, because domestic firms were highly leveraged and had lots of dollar debt. This debt soared as a share of GDP, not because of massive new borrowing, but because the denominator crashed as currencies plunged:


International Monetary Fund

I and others wrote about this at the time; you can see, by the way, why I get annoyed at assertions that economists paid no attention to debt until the 2008 crisis, but also why I’m annoyed at myself for not realizing how a housing crash could produce balance-sheet stress just as currency crashes did in 1998 Asia.

Anyway, it looks like time to dust off the extensive analysis that took place back then. Obviously there are some important differences between China 2015 and Indonesia 1998, including huge foreign exchange reserves but also what looks like a much bigger and more problematic overhang of internal debt. But we do have a lot of material to draw on; no need to reinvent everything from scratch.

Friday’s second post was “Fear of Asymmetry:”

David Roberts has a very nice essay on American politics, framed as an analysis of what nerds don’t get; but it’s not just nerds who seem weirdly blind to the reality here.

One problem with the essay, however, is that Roberts never really explains why people who pride themselves on their ability to think things through slide into lazy cliches when it comes to politics. And that’s important: just lecturing Silicon Valley types on the need to get serious about politics won’t work if there are deeper reasons smart people get stupid when politics enters the picture.

Here’s how I see it: it’s about self-image. Tech types like to imagine themselves above the fray, operating on a higher plane than those grubby political types. But if you get serious about US politics, you realize that this is actually an irresponsible pose. As Roberts says, the parties are not symmetric, and wisdom does not lie somewhere between the extremists on both sides. In fact, policies that the tech elite support, like carbon taxes, are supported only by the left wing of the Democratic Party; the entire Republican Party is controlled by climate denialists, and anti-science types more broadly. And in general the modern GOP is basically anti-rational analysis; it’s at war not just with the welfare state but with the Enlightenment.

But for an ubernerd to acknowledge this reality would be to sound, horrors, partisan. And so they refuse to go there; all their belief in data and careful analysis gets set aside when it comes to politics, because the political data — and there really are a lot of data on all this — tell you what they don’t want to hear.

As readers might guess, I face some personal frustration here. When it comes to economics, I try to base what I say on evidence and on models that have stood the test of confrontation with evidence; but I often encounter people who assume that I’m just a left-wing version of Stephen Moore. Why do they believe that? Have they actually looked at my analysis and track record? No, they just know that I’m much more critical of the right than of the left, and they assume that this means ipso facto that I’m biased. But what if in modern America the right is much more wrong than the left? Not a possibility they’re willing to contemplate.

So are efforts to change this futile? I hope not. Roberts may well have the right approach: keep stressing the evidence of political asymmetry. Maybe, maybe, someone will listen.

Saturday’s post was “Artificial Unintelligence:”

In the early stages of the Lesser Depression, those of us who knew a bit about the macroeconomic debates of the 1930s, and realized how relevant the hard-won insights of Keynes and Hicks were to the post-financial crisis world, often felt a sense of despair. Everywhere you looked, people who imagined themselves sophisticated and possessed of deep understanding were resurrecting 75-year-old fallacies and presenting them as deep insights.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and I at least no longer feel the same sense of despair. Instead, I feel an even deeper sense of despair — because people are still rolling out those same fallacies, even though in the interim those of us who remembered and understood Keynes/Hicks have been right about most things, and those lecturing us have been wrong about everything.

So here’s William Cohan in the Times, declaring that the Fed should “show some spine” and raise rates even though there is no sign of accelerating inflation. His reasoning:

The case for raising rates is straightforward: Like any commodity, the price of borrowing money — interest rates — should be determined by supply and demand, not by manipulation by a market behemoth. Essentially, the clever Q.E. program caused a widespread mispricing of risk, deluding investors into underestimating the risk of various financial assets they were buying.

Oh dear.

Cohan’s theory of interest rates is basically the old notion of loanable funds: the interest rate is determined by the supply of and demand for credit. As Keynes and Hicks explained three generations ago, this is a completely inadequate story — because it misses the reality that the level of income isn’t fixed, and changes in income affect the supply and demand for funds. So loanable funds doesn’t determine the interest rate; all it does is define a relationship between interest rates and income, the IS curve of the IS-LM model:

What determines where we end up on that curve? Monetary policy. The Fed sets interest rates, whether it wants to or not — even a supposed hands-off policy has to involve choosing the level of the monetary base somehow, which means that it’s a monetary policy choice.

And how would you know if the Fed is setting rates too low? Here’s where Hicks meets Wicksell: rates are too low if the economy is overheating and inflation is accelerating. Not exactly what we’ve seen in the era of zero rates and QE:

OK, there are arguments that the Fed should be willing to abandon its inflation target so as to discourage bubbles. I think those arguments are wrong — but in any case they have nothing to do with the notion that current rates are somehow artificial, that we should let rates be determined by “supply and demand”.

The worrying thing is that, as I’ve suggested, crude misunderstandings along these lines are widespread even among people who imagine themselves well-informed and sophisticated. Eighty years of hard economic thinking, and seven years of overwhelming confirmation of that hard thinking, have made no dent in their worldview. Awesome.

Blow and Krugman

August 31, 2015

In “60 Years Later, Echoes of Emmett Till’s Killing” Mr. Blow says a savage beating of a 14-year-old Chicago boy is a sadly familiar story to today’s young black people.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Heckuva Job,” says that as some Republican candidates have shown, it’s not too difficult to fool many of the people for quite a long time.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday was the 60th anniversary of the savage killing of Emmett Till.

Till was a black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.

It is said that the boy said something to, and whistled at, a white woman.

This was a line not crossed in those parts in this country. As I wrote in June when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church after complaining that black people are “raping our women”:

“There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity.”

That thread seems altered but unbroken from Emmett’s time to ours.

In the wee hours of the night, two white men kidnapped Emmett from his family’s home, mercilessly beat him, took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head, then tied the metal fan of a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and pushed him in.

When Emmett’s body was fished from the river three days later, it had already begun to decompose. He was unrecognizable. His body was identified because he was wearing a ring that had belonged to his father.

His body was sent back to Chicago for burial. His mother, Mamie, collapsed at the sight of the coffin, just two weeks after she kissed her son goodbye.

His mother insisted that the coffin be opened so that she could see her son.As she recalled: “I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek. I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed was a bullet hole, and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered: Was it necessary to shoot him?”

His mother insisted on an open coffin so that everyone could see what had been done to her baby.

According to Devery S. Anderson’s book about Emmett published this month, the night of the wake alone, “between 10,000 and 50,000 people” filed past Emmett’s glass-covered coffin to gaze at what was left of his face.

A little over two weeks after Emmett was buried, the men who killed him were acquitted, after only 67 minutes of jury deliberations. One juror is said to have told a reporter that the deliberations wouldn’t have taken that long if the jurors hadn’t taken a break to drink a pop.

After the acquittal the killers kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures.

And unfortunately, Emmett’s case was far from the only one. As the law professors Margaret A. Burnham and Margaret M. Russell wrote in The Times last week, there are hundreds of “disappeared” black people in this country “who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.”

But Emmett became the most pivotal. His death was immeasurable in its effect on young black people at the time. It activated and mobilized them. That is not so dissimilar from today.

Jesse Jackson is credited with calling Emmett’s murder the “Big Bang” of the civil rights movement.

But in an interview published earlier this month, a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Benson, co-author of the 2003 book “Death of Innocence” about the case, made a more direct comparison:

“Before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till. This was the first ‘Black Lives Matter’ story. It is no wonder, then, that each time we read about another young unarmed black male being shot down in the street — unjustly — by an authority figure, there is the mention of Emmett’s name. What we come to see with the loss of Emmett is just what racism has cost us in this country. What it costs us still, in the loss of so many bright, gifted kids. Partly through untimely deaths. But also in the limited opportunities many have to excel, because of mass incarceration or even unwarranted tracking in schools.”

Benson continued:

“When we begin to see the Emmett Till story in this context, we realize that we all lose something to racism. And we see that we all have something to gain by overcoming the obstacles to full participation that still exist. So, Emmett Till is a vital American story.”

Yes, Emmett’s story is a vital American story, and it feels like an all-too-present one as we see this cycle repeating itself: young lives are lost, the body itself is desecrated or neglected, killers are acquitted or not even brought to trial, and the effects of the feelings of terror and injustice galvanize a generation of young people who have taken as much as they plan to take.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are many things we should remember about the events of late August and early September 2005, and the political fallout shouldn’t be near the top of the list. Still, the disaster in New Orleans did the Bush administration a great deal of damage — and conservatives have never stopped trying to take their revenge. Every time something has gone wrong on President Obama’s watch, critics have been quick to declare the event “Obama’s Katrina.” How many Katrinas has Mr. Obama had so far? By one count, 23.

Somehow, however, these putative Katrinas never end up having the political impact of the lethal debacle that unfolded a decade ago. Partly that’s because many of the alleged disasters weren’t disasters after all. For example, the teething problems of Healthcare.gov were embarrassing, but they were eventually resolved — without anyone dying in the process — and at this point Obamacare looks like a huge success.

Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.

What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.

You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.

Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.

Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.

Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.

And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?

I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.

True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. And Hillary Clinton is the subject of a sort of anti-cult of personality, whose most ordinary actions are portrayed as nefarious. (No, the email thing doesn’t rise to the level of a “scandal.”)

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.

Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?

But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.

And while Mr. Trump doesn’t exude presidential dignity, he’s seeking the nomination of a party that once considered it a great idea to put George W. Bush in a flight suit and have him land on an aircraft carrier.

The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.

Brooks and Krugman

August 28, 2015

In “When ISIS Rapists Win” Bobo wrings his hands, and wails, and takes a look at the shocking means the Islamic State uses to spread its ideas.  In the comments “soxared04/07/13” from Crete, Illinois had this to say:  “As is usual with you, Mr. Brooks, you cut right to the chase: it’s all President Obama’s fault. His reaction has been quite “incorrect”, and his generals’ game-plans nothing more than chalkboard lectures at the War College. You fail to mention the decidedly inconvenient fact that “the wormhole” back to everlasting darkness was dug by Richard Cheney, who lied W. into signing off on it, an illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign country that you, remember, approved with the zeal of the newly-converted. … This is, Mr. Brooks, a deeply dishonest column. You blame the present and exonerate the past with your cowardly silence.”  Prof. Krugman takes a look at the “Crash Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President” and says the contenders are clueless in their China-bashing and bluster over volatile markets.  Here’s Bobo:

The ISIS atrocities have descended like distant nightmares upon the numbed conscious of the world. The first beheadings of Americans had the power to shock, but since then there has been a steady barrage of inhumanity: mass executions of Christians and others, throwing gay men from rooftops, the destruction of ancient archaeological treasures, the routine use of poison gas.

Even the recent reports in The Times about the Islamic State’s highly structured rape program have produced shock but barely a ripple of action.

And yet something bigger is going on. It’s as if some secret wormhole into a different historical epoch has been discovered and the knowledge of centuries is being unlearned.

This is happening in the moral sphere. State-sponsored slavery seemed like a thing of the past, but now ISIS is an unapologetic slave state. Yazidi women are carefully cataloged, warehoused and bid upon.

The rapes are theocratized. The rapists pray devoutly before and after the act. The religious leader’s handbook governing the rape program has a handy Frequently Asked Questions section for the young rapists:

“Question 12: May a man kiss the female slave of another, with the owner’s permission?

“A man may not kiss the female slave of another, for kissing [involves] pleasure, and pleasure is prohibited unless [the man] owns [the slave] exclusively.

“Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty?

“It is permissible to have intercourse with the female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

This wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century. Western experts have stared the thing in the face, trying to figure out the cause and significance of the moral disaster we are witnessing. There was a very fine essay in The New York Review of Books by a veteran Middle East expert who chose to remain anonymous and who more or less threw up his hands.

“The clearest evidence that we do not understand this phenomenon is our consistent inability to predict — still less control — these developments,” the author writes. Every time we think ISIS has appalled the world and sabotaged itself, it holds its own or gains strength.

Writing in The National Interest, Ross Harrison shows how the ISIS wormhole into a different moral epoch is accompanied by a political wormhole designed to take the Middle East into a different geostrategic epoch. For the past many decades the Middle East has been defined by nation- states and the Arab mind has been influenced by nationalism. But these nation-states have been weakened (Egypt) or destroyed (Iraq and Syria). Nationalism no longer mobilizes popular passion or provides a convincing historical narrative.

ISIS has arisen, Harrison argues, to bury nationalism and to destroy the Arab nation-state.

“It is tapping into a belief that the pre-nationalist Islamic era represents the glorious halcyon days for the Arab world, while the later era in which secular nationalism flourished was one of decline and foreign domination,” he writes.

ISIS consistently tries to destroy the borders between nation-states. It undermines, confuses or smashes national identities. It eliminates national and pre-caliphate memories.

Meanwhile, it offers a confident vision of the future: a unified caliphate. It fills the vacuum left by decaying nationalist ideologies. As Harrison puts it, “ISIS has cut off almost all pathways to a future other than its self-proclaimed caliphate. The intent is to use this as a wedge with which to expand beyond its base in Iraq and Syria and weaken secular nationalist bonds in Lebanon, Jordan and in even more innately nationalist countries like Egypt.”

President Obama has said that ISIS stands for nothing but savagery. That’s clearly incorrect. Our military leaders speak of the struggle against ISIS as an attempt to kill as many ISIS leaders and soldiers as possible. But this is a war about a vision of history. ISIS ideas have legitimacy because it controls territory and has a place to enact them.

So far the response to ISIS has been pathetic. The U.S. pledged $500 million to train and equip Syrian moderates, hoping to create 15,000 fighters. After three years we turned out a grand total of 60 fighters, of whom a third were immediately captured.

It’s time to stop underestimating this force as some group of self-discrediting madmen. ISIS is a moral and political threat to the fragile and ugly stability that exists in what’s left in the Middle East. ISIS will thrive and spread its ideas for as long as it has its land.

We are looking into a future with a resurgent Iran, a contagious ISIS and a collapsing state order. If this isn’t a cause for alarm and reappraisal, I don’t know what is.

He should be horse-whipped.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

By the way, five years ago there were real reasons to complain about China’s undervalued currency. But Chinese inflation and the rise of new competitors have largely eliminated that problem.

Back to the deep bench: Chris Christie, another governor who not long ago was touted as the next big thing, was more comprehensible. According to Mr. Christie, the reason U.S. markets were roiled by events in China was U.S. budget deficits, which he claims have put us in debt to the Chinese and hence made us vulnerable to their troubles. That almost rises to the level of a coherent economic story.

Did the U.S. market plunge because Chinese investors were cutting off credit? Well, no. If our debt to China were the problem, we would have seen U.S. interest rates spiking as China crashed. Instead, interest rates fell.

But there’s a slight excuse for Mr. Christie’s embrace of this particular fantasy: scare stories involving Chinese ownership of U.S. debt have been a Republican staple for years. They were, in particular, a favorite of Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2012.

And you can see why. “Obama is endangering America by borrowing from China” is a perfect political line, playing into deficit fetishism, xenophobia and the perennial claim that Democrats don’t stand up for America! America! America! It’s also complete nonsense, but that doesn’t seem to matter.

In fact, talking nonsense about economic crises is essentially a job requirement for anyone hoping to get the Republican presidential nomination.

To understand why, you need to go back to the politics of 2009, when the new Obama administration was trying to cope with the most terrifying crisis since the 1930s. The outgoing Bush administration had already engineered a bank bailout, but the Obama team reinforced this effort with a temporary program of deficit spending, while the Federal Reserve sought to bolster the economy by buying lots of assets.

And Republicans, across the board, predicted disaster. Deficit spending, they insisted, would cause soaring interest rates and bankruptcy; the Fed’s efforts would “debase the dollar” and produce runaway inflation.

None of it happened. Interest rates stayed very low, as did inflation. But the G.O.P. never acknowledged, after six full years of being wrong about everything, that the bad things it predicted failed to take place, or showed any willingness to rethink the doctrines that led to those bad predictions. Instead, the party’s leading figures kept talking, year after year, as if the disasters they had predicted were actually happening.

Now we’ve had a reminder that something like that last crisis could happen again — which means that we might need a repeat of the policies that helped limit the damage last time. But no Republican dares suggest such a thing.

Instead, even the supposedly sensible candidates call for destructive policies. Thus John Kasich is being portrayed as a different kind of Republican because as governor he approved Medicaid expansion in Ohio, but his signature initiative is a call for a balanced-budget amendment, which would cripple policy in a crisis.

The point is that one side of the political aisle has been utterly determined to learn nothing from the economic experiences of recent years. If one of these candidates ends up in the hot seat the next time crisis strikes, we should be very, very afraid.

Krugman’s blog, 8/26/15

August 27, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “The Reactionary Soul:”

Frank Bruni marvels at polls indicating that Donald Trump, with his multiple marriages and casinos, is the preferred candidate among Republican evangelicals. Others are shocked to see a crude mercantilist make so much headway in the alleged party of free markets. What happened to conservative principles?

Actually, nothing — because those alleged principles were never real. Conservative religiosity, conservative faith in markets, were never about living a godly life or letting the invisible hand promote entrepreneurship. Instead, it was all as Corey Robin describes it: Conservatism is

a reactionary movement, a defense of power and privilege against democratic challenges from below, particularly in the private spheres of the family and the workplace.

It’s really about who’s boss, and making sure that the man in charge stays boss. Trump is admired for putting women and workers in their place, and it doesn’t matter if he covets his neighbor’s wife or demands trade wars.

The point is that Trump isn’t a diversion, he’s a revelation, bringing the real motivations of the movement out into the open.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 27, 2015

In “Enough Is Enough” Mr. Blow says that when people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.  Mr. Cohen, in “Middle Eastern Zen,” says don’t worry about the Middle East. Worry about China. The Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.  Mr. Kristof ponders “Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting” and says Wednesday’s killings provide further evidence of the need for more restrictive gun policies in the United States.  Which will happen, Nick, when pigs fly.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trumpand his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look naïve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (Amazon.com, 2007)

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In case the gyrations in global markets have you confused, here’s anupdated Middle Eastern primer that will make you feel better:

1) The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Shiite majority to power, so advancing the interests of Shiite Iran, America’s enemy. It ousted the Sunnis, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite balance in the Middle East. This infuriated Sunni Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, in theory.

2) The wealthy Saudi royal family underwrites a conservative Wahhabi Islam whose teachings are fiercely anti-American (don’t ask about the Saudi-American alliance). The Saudis have backed Sunni Islamists in war-ravaged Syria against the country’s Iranian-backed despot, Bashar al-Assad, who is from the quasi-Shiite Alawite sect. This maneuver backfired. A barbaric, tech-savvy, knife-wielding Sunni group calling itself Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, beheading and raping and destroying great treasures in pursuit of a medieval caliphate that would stretch across territory including modern-day Saudi Arabia. Talk about unintended consequences! Meanwhile the Saudis have bankrolled the destruction of Sunni Islamists in Egypt. This other bad sort of Sunni extremist, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, committed the ultimate lèse-majesté of believing in the ballot box as a source of authority.

3) Sunni-Shiite tensions have become regional. Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies are now so convinced that the United States is pro-Shiite (read pro-Iran!), and so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs, that they have embarked on a bombing campaign in — you guessed it! — Yemen. The purported aim is to stop the Houthis, seen in Riyadh as Iranian proxies.

4) In the aftermath of the Arab Spring (see below) the main functioning, stable states in the Middle East are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Israel has been in a stop-go war with Arabs since 1948, but is most exercised about Iran, which is not Arab, not Sunni, not on its border and not nuclear armed (see below).

5) The old Middle Eastern order is in tatters. Post-Ottoman states that were not nations, with century-old borders drawn up by Europeans, have split along sectarian lines and made nonsense of those borders. A metastasizing jihadi ideology driven by hatred of Western modernity, colonialism and perceived decadence has proved of unquenchable appeal. An independent Kurdistan, omitted from the post-Ottoman order, is now pretty close to realization. Cocktail-party nugget: Kurds and Israelis are tight.

6) The Obama administration called Syria’s Assad toast without having the means to turn him into toast. This was a huge blunder. A void ensued. Nobody loves a void like a jihadi. Enter Islamic State. America is now in a half-war with Islamic State. Half-war is like half-pregnancy: an illusory impossibility. America is still casting around for palatable nonfundamentalist Syrian opposition groups — a fool’s errand. Syria is gone, baby, gone.

7) Saudi views are increasingly identical to Israeli views (don’t sweat the details), especially on Iran. Wahhabi Islam, however, views Zionism as its implacable enemy. Hence identity of view does not translate into diplomatic rapprochement.

8) The Middle East has a longstanding cottage industry called the peace process. Palestinians are represented by the Palestinian Authority, an authority that has no authority over Palestinians in Gaza, no democratic legitimacy, no obvious claim to represent anything but itself, and no determination to change the status quo. Israel has a right-wing government with no interest in peace and every interest in quashing the very notion of Palestinian statehood — even of Palestinians themselves! The status quo suits Israel, although it involves intermittent small wars.

9) Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The United States and Israel have agreed never to talk about the Jewish state’s alleged nuclear weapons (again, don’t ask).

10) Several despots were swept out in the Arab Spring in 2011. But instead of bringing empowerment and agency through new forms of citizenship, the revolutions folded into sectarianism. Sectarianism means favoring your own and brutalizing the rest (see Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).

11) Iran is a theocracy split between hard-liners and reformists. The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have reached a nuclear accord with Iran. It has stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. It is, on balance, the most effective way to keep Iran from a bomb. Still, every Republican member of Congress opposes the deal. They believe the White House, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are all deluded and they know better! Yep, they do. Plunging oil prices and America’s energy revolution have opened new strategic possibilities in the Middle East. The nuclear deal, too, could in time open new avenues for America to pursue its Middle Eastern interests. A region of recast alliances is anathema to status quo powers like Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

12) Got it? If not, don’t worry. Be Zen. There’s only so much anyone can worry about. Focus on China for now. My guess is the Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages ofregulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

When there’s bacon in the branches…

Krugman’s blog, 8/25/15

August 26, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “It’s Getting Tighter:”

When thinking about the market madness and its possible real effects, here’s something you — where by “you” I mean the Fed in particular — really, really need to keep in mind: the markets have already, in effect, tightened monetary conditions quite a lot.

First of all, if break-evens (the difference between interest rates on ordinary bonds and inflation-protected bonds) are any guide, inflation expectations have fallen sharply:

Second, while interest rates on Treasuries are down, rates on private securities viewed as even moderately risky are up quite a lot:

So real borrowing costs are up sharply for many private borrowers. This is a significant headwind for the U.S. economy, which was hardly growing like gangbusters in any case.

A Fed hike now looks like an even worse idea than it did a few days ago.

Yesterday’s second post was “Unnatural Obsessions:”

One enduring constant of the world economy since 2008 is the chorus of sober-sounding people declaring that the Fed must act responsibly and raise rates. A few years back, rising commodity prices and a flood of money into emerging markets were proof that low rates were dangerously inflationary and must be hiked. Now we have plunging commodity prices and a flood of money out of emerging markets; clearly, this shows that the Fed must do the right thing, and raise rates.

The underlying claim in all such demands is that the low interest rates we’ve had since 2008 are “unnatural” or “artificial”. So it’s probably worth repeating that while very low rates may seem strange, they also seem fully justified by the economic situation. The original Wicksellian concept of the natural rate of interest defined that rate as the rate consistent with stable prices, with an economy that was neither too hot nor too cold. If we had had an unnaturally low rate these past 7 years, we should have seen accelerating inflation; we haven’t.

Quantitative easing, by the way, is just more of the same. If you are claiming that the Fed has created artificially easy credit, you have to explain how it can do that year after year without producing inflation or an overheating economy. Nobody has ever produced a coherent story about how Fed policy can drive interest rates below their natural level without inflationary effects.

So even if you believe that a low-rate environment is helping to feed a series of bubbles, you have to ask how it can possibly make sense to raise rates when the underlying problem is overall economic weakness, which a rate hike would make worse.

One last point: many people have noted the resemblances between current events and the market instability of 1998. However, few have pointed out that the volatility of 1998 followed a long period in which long-term interest rates never dropped below 5 percent. Hot money doesn’t need ultra-low rates to be subject to enthusiasms and sudden losses of confidence.

Friedman and Bruni

August 26, 2015

In “Bonfire of the Assets, With Trump Lighting Matches” TMOW says China burns money for its stock market, Russia burns food as a nationalist distraction and the U.S. is now burning pluralism for politics.  Mr. Bruni, in “Trump-ward, Christian Soldiers?”, says the veneration of The Donald affirms the selective morality of the religious right.  Here’s TMOW:

Normally, when your main geopolitical rivals are shooting themselves in both feet, the military manual says step back and enjoy the show. But I take little comfort in watching China burning money and Russia burning food, because in today’s interdependent world we’re all affected.

I also find no joy in it because we Americans, too, have started burning our most important source of competitive advantage — our pluralism. One of our two political parties has gone nuts and started following a pied piper of intolerance, named Donald Trump.

First, we watched China’s leadership burn money — trying to prop up a ridiculously overvalued stock market by buying falling stocks with government savings, and then seeing that market continue to collapse because the very fact that the government was intervening suggested no one knew what these stocks were worth.

The Wall Street Journal reported on July 30 that the “state-owned China Securities Finance Corporation has been spending up to 180 billion yuan a day ($29 billion) to try to stabilize stocks.” Since the Shanghai exchange has fallen sharply since then, the amount of money China burned trying to prop up already unrealistic valuations must be staggering.

The economic management team in Beijing has seriously lost its way. But leaders do funky things when the ruling party’s bargain with its people is “we get to rule and you get to get rich.” Collapsing markets can quickly lead to collapsing legitimacy.

Ask the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He burned the eastern quarter of Ukraine to distract the Russian middle class from his economic mismanagement and illegitimacy.

Putin decided that building his own Silicon Valley — the Skolkovo Innovation Center outside of Moscow — was too hard. So to build his legitimacy he chose nationalism and seized Crimea instead. Putin prefers to manufacture chips on his shoulder than microchips. When the Crimea annexation nationalist sugar high wore off, Putin started burning food imported from countries sanctioning Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine.

As The Times reported on Aug. 6, “Following an order by President Vladimir V. Putin, officials threw huge piles of pork, tomatoes, peaches and cheese into landfills and garbage incinerators. The frenzy, remarkable even by the standards of Russia’s recent politicization of food supplies, was gleefully reported by Russian state television.” This is in a country where food prices have soared because of the collapse of the ruble.

My fear is that once Putin’s food-burning nationalist sugar high wears off, he’ll burn up another neighbor. Estonia, please beware.

Alas, though, America has joined this assets bonfire. We’re now in a world where all top-down authority structures are being challenged. It’s most obvious in the Arab world where you have pluralistic countries that lack pluralism and so could be held together from the top-down only by an iron fist — and when that iron fist got removed they spun apart. America’s greatest advantage is its pluralism: It can govern itself horizontally by its people of all colors and creeds forging social contracts to live together as equal citizens.

It not only makes us more stable but also more innovative, because we can collaborate internally and externally with anyone anywhere, leveraging more brainpower. Who is the new C.E.O. of Google? Sundar Pichai. Who is the new C.E.O. of Microsoft? Satya Nadella. Mark Zuckerberg’s family did not come over on the Mayflower.

But right now we’re messing around with that incredible asset. Yes, we must control our borders; it is the essence of sovereignty. It has been a failure of both our political parties that the Mexican-American border has been so porous. So I am for a high wall, but with a very big gate — one that legally lets in energetic low-skilled workers and the high-I.Q. risk-takers who have made our economy the envy of the world — and for legislation that provides a pathway for the millions of illegal immigrants already here to gain legal status and eventually citizenship.

In June 2013, the Senate, including 14 Republicans, passed a bill that would do all that. But the extremists in the G.O.P. House refused to follow, so the bill stalled.

And now we have Trump shamelessly exploiting this issue even more. He’s calling for an end to the 14th Amendment’s birthright principle, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born here, and also for a government program to round up all 11 million illegal immigrants and send them home — an utterly lunatic idea that Trump dismisses as a mere “management” problem. Like lemmings, many of the other G.O.P. presidential hopefuls just followed Trump over that cliff.

This is not funny anymore. This is not entertaining. Donald Trump is not cute. His ugly nativism shamefully plays on people’s fears and ignorance. It ignores bipartisan solutions already on the table, undermines the civic ideals that make our melting pot work in ways no European or Asian country can match (try to become a Japanese) and tampers with the very secret of our sauce — pluralism, that out of many we make one.

Every era spews up a Joe McCarthy type who tries to thrive by dividing and frightening us, and today his name is Donald Trump.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Let me get this straight. If I want the admiration and blessings of the most flamboyant, judgmental Christians in America, I should marry three times, do a queasy-making amount of sexual boasting, verbally degrade women, talk trash about pretty much everyone else while I’m at it, encourage gamblers to hemorrhage their savings in casinos bearing my name and crow incessantly about how much money I’ve amassed?

Seems to work for Donald Trump.

Polls show him to be the preferred candidate among not just all Republican voters but also the party’s vocal evangelical subset.

He’s more beloved than Mike Huckabee, a former evangelical pastor, or Ted Cruz, an evangelical pastor’s son, or Scott Walker, who said during the recent Republican debate: “It’s only by the blood of Jesus Christ that I’ve been redeemed.”

When Trump mentions blood, it’s less biblical, as Megyn Kelly can well attest.

No matter. The holy rollers are smiling upon the high roller. And they’re proving, yet again, how selective and incoherent the religiosity of many in the party’s God squad is.

Usually the disconnect involves stern moralizing, especially on matters sexual, by showily devout public figures who are then exposed as adulterers or (gasp!) closet homosexuals. I’d list all the names, starting with Josh Duggar and working backward, but my column doesn’t sprawl over an entire page of the newspaper.

Or the disconnect is between evangelists’ panegyrics about Christ’s penury and their hustle for funds to support less-than-penurious lifestyles. John Oliver, the host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” has been making brilliant satirical fun of this by promoting his new tax-exempt church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Last Sunday he apologized to viewers that his wife, Wanda Jo, “cannot be with us this evening.”

“She’s at our summer parsonage in Hawaii,” he continued, “for a week of spiritual introspection and occasional parasailing.”

What’s different and fascinating about the Trump worship is that he doesn’t even try that hard for a righteous facade — for Potemkin piety. Sure, he speaks of enthusiastic churchgoing, and he’s careful to curse Planned Parenthood and to insist that matrimony be reserved for heterosexuals as demonstrably inept at it as he is.

But beyond that? He just about runs the table on the seven deadly sins. He personifies greed, embodies pride, radiates lust. Wrath is covered by his anti-immigrant, anti-“losers” rants, and if we interpret gluttony to include big buildings and not just Big Macs, he’s a glutton through and through. That leaves envy and sloth. I’m betting that he harbors plenty of the former, though I’ll concede that he exhibits none of the latter.

In 2012, inexplicably, he was invited to Liberty University, where he digressed during his remarks to extol the prudence of prenuptial agreements. But all was forgiven: His host, Jerry Falwell, told audience members that Trump could be credited for “single-handedly” forcing President Obama to release his birth certificate. Oh how they cheered, as if ugly, groundless partisan rumor-mongering were on a saintly par with washing lepers’ feet.

Maybe it’s Trump’s jingoism they adore. They venerated Ronald Reagan though he’d divorced, remarried and spent much of his career in the godless clutch of Hollywood.

Maybe their fealty to Trump is payback for his donations to conservative religious groups.

Or maybe his pompadour has mesmerized them. It could, in the right wind, be mistaken for a halo.

I’m grasping at straws, because there’s no sense in the fact that many of the people who most frequently espouse the Christian spirit then proceed to vilify immigrants, demonize minorities and line up behind a candidate who’s a one-man master class in such misanthropy.

From Trump’s Twitter account gushes an endless stream of un-Christian rudeness, and he was at it again on Monday night, retweeting someone else’s denigration of Kelly as a “bimbo.” Shouldn’t he be turning the other cheek?

For politicians as for voters, devotion and grace can be fickle, convenient things. Courting the evangelical vote, Cruz used his own Twitter account last week to say that his “thoughts and prayers are with President Jimmy Carter,” whose struggle with cancer was riveting the nation. But then Cruz pressed on with a speech that bemoaned the “misery, stagnation and malaise” of Carter’s presidency. He couldn’t have hit pause on the Carter bashing for a week or two?

Carter pressed on, too — with his usual weekend routine of teaching Sunday school, which he has long done with little fanfare. His own Christianity is not a bludgeon but a bridge.

As for Trump, I must not be watching the same campaign that his evangelical fans are, because I don’t see someone interested in serving God. I see someone interested in being God.


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