Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 11, 2016

In “Stop Bernie-Splaining to Black Folks” Mr. Blow says history and experience have burned into the black American psyche a functional pragmatism whose existence doesn’t depend on others’ approval.  Mr. Kristof states the blindingly obvious in “The G.O.P. Created Donald Trump,” where he says the Republican establishment has itself to blame for a front-runner it loathes.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary, Bernie and History” and concludes that Democratic women are voting their ages in the nominating contests.  Well, Gail, not this 70 year old.  I’m voting for Bernie.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Now that Iowa and New Hampshire are vanishing in the rearview mirror, the Democratic contests shift more West and South — beginning with Nevada and South Carolina, states that have significantly more Hispanic or black voters, respectively, who at this point disproportionately favor Hillary Clinton to Bernie Sanders.

This support for Clinton, particular among African-American voters, is for some perplexing and for others irritating.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have commented to me on social media that they don’t understand this support. “Don’t black folks understand that Bernie best represents their interests?” the argument generally goes. But from there, it can lead to a comparison between Sanders and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; to an assertion that Sanders is the Barack Obama that we really wanted and needed; to an exasperated “black people are voting against their interests” stance.

If only black people knew more, understood better, where the candidates stood — now and over their lifetimes — they would make a better choice, the right choice. The level of condescension in these comments is staggering.

Sanders is a solid candidate and his integrity and earnestness are admirable, but that can get lost in the noise of advocacy.

Tucked among all this Bernie-splaining by some supporters, it appears to me, is a not-so-subtle, not-so-innocuous savior syndrome and paternalistic patronage that I find so grossly offensive that it boggles the mind that such language should emanate from the mouths — or keyboards — of supposed progressives.

But then I am reminded that the idea that black folks are infantile and must be told what to do and what to think is not confined by ideological barriers. The ideological difference is that one side prefers punishment and the other pity, and neither is a thing in which most black folks delight.

It is not so much that black voters love Clinton and loathe Sanders. Indeed, in The Nation magazine, the estimable Michelle Alexander makes a strong case in an essay titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” For many there isn’t much passion for either candidate. Instead, black folks are trying to keep their feet planted in reality and choose from among politicians who have historically promised much and delivered little. It is often a choice between the devil you know and the one you don’t, or more precisely, among the friend who betrays you, the stranger who entices you and the enemy who seeks to destroy you.

It is not black folks who need to come to a new understanding, but those whose privileged gaze prevents them from seeing that black thought and consciousness is informed by a bitter history, a mountain of disappointment and an ocean of tears.

There is a passage by James Baldwin in his essay “Journey to Atlanta” that I believe explains some of the apprehension about Sanders’s grand plans in a way that I could never equal, and although it is long, I’m going to quote it here in full.

Of all Americans, Negroes distrust politicians most, or, more accurately, they have been best trained to expect nothing from them; more than other Americans, they are always aware of the enormous gap between election promises and their daily lives. It is true that the promises excite them, but this is not because they are taken as proof of good intentions. They are the proof of something more concrete than intentions: that the Negro situation is not static, that changes have occurred, and are occurring and will occur — this, in spite of the daily, dead-end monotony. It is this daily, dead-end monotony, though, as well as the wise desire not to be betrayed by too much hoping, which causes them to look on politicians with such an extraordinarily disenchanted eye.

This fatalistic indifference is something that drives the optimistic American liberal quite mad; he is prone, in his more exasperated moments, to refer to Negroes as political children, an appellation not entirely just. Negro liberals, being consulted, assure us that this is something that will disappear with “education,” a vast, all-purpose term, conjuring up visions of sunlit housing projects, stacks of copybooks and a race of well-soaped, dark-skinned people who never slur their R’s. Actually, this is not so much political irresponsibility as the product of experience, experience which no amount of education can quite efface.

Baldwin continues:

“Our people” have functioned in this country for nearly a century as political weapons, the trump card up the enemies’ sleeve; anything promised Negroes at election time is also a threat leveled at the opposition; in the struggle for mastery the Negro is the pawn.

Even black folks who don’t explicitly articulate this intuitively understand it.

History and experience have burned into the black American psyche a sort of functional pragmatism that will be hard to erase. It is a coping mechanism, a survival mechanism, and its existence doesn’t depend on others’ understanding or approval.

However, that pragmatism could work against the idealism of a candidate like Sanders.

Black folks don’t want to be “betrayed by too much hoping,” and Sanders’s proposals, as good as they sound, can also sound too good to be true. There is a whiff of fancifulness.

For instance, Sanders says that his agenda will require a Congress-flipping political revolution of like-minded voters, but so far, that revolution has yet to materialize. Just asin Iowa, in New Hampshire there were more voters — or caucusgoers — making choices in the Republican contest than in the Democratic one. That, so far, sounds more like a Republican revolution. If that trend holds for the rest of the primary season and into the general election, not only would Democrats not be likely pick up congressional seats, they could lose more of them.

That’s a stubborn fact emerging — a reality — and it is one that all voters, including black ones, shouldn’t be simply told to discount.

This is not to say that Clinton or Sanders is the better choice for Democrats this season, but simply that the way some of Sanders’s supporters have talked down to black voters does him a disservice, and makes clear their insensitivity to the cultural and experiential political knowledge that has accrued to the black electorate.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

The betting markets now say that the most likely Republican nominee for president is a man who mocks women, insults Latinos, endorses war crimes like torture, denounces party icons and favors barring people from the United States based on their religion.

He’s less a true-believer conservative than an opportunist, though, for he has supported single-payer health insurance, abortion rights and tighter gun measures. Lindsey Graham says he’s “crazy,” Jeb Bush says he would be worse than President Obama, and the conservative National Review warned that he is a “menace to American conservatism.”

It’s Donald Trump, of course. He’s smarter than critics believe — he understood the political mood better than we pundits did — but I can’t think of any national politician I’ve met over the decades who was so ill informed on the issues, or so evasive, or who so elegantly and dangerously melded bombast and vapidity.

So how did we get to this stage where the leading Republican candidate is loathed by the Republican establishment?

In part, I think, Republican leaders brought this on themselves. Over the decades they pried open a Pandora’s box, a toxic politics of fear and resentment, sometimes brewed with a tinge of racial animus, and they could never satisfy the unrealistic expectations that they nurtured among supporters.

Perhaps it started in 1968 with Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” recruiting white segregationists infuriated by the civil rights movement. It then expanded to encompass immigration and the three G’s — God, guns and gays.

Of course, Democrats also sometimes campaigned outrageously, and some Republicans scorned the politics of hate. There was a marvelous scene in 2008 when John McCain was running against Obama, and a woman at a McCain rally suggested that Obama was an Arab who couldn’t be trusted. McCain corrected her and then praised his rival: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, a citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Political nastiness and conspiracy theories were amplified by right-wing talk radio, television and websites — and, yes, there are left-wing versions as well, but they are much less influential. Democrats often felt disadvantaged by the rise of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, but in retrospect Limbaugh and Fox created a conservative echo chamber that hurt the Republican Party by tugging it to the right and sometimes breeding a myopic extremism in which reality is irrelevant.

A poll released in September found that Republicans were more likely to think that Obama was born abroad than that Ted Cruz was. That poll found that Trump supporters believed by nearly a three-to-one ratio that Obama was born overseas.

The Republican establishment profited from the insinuations that Obama is a Muslim, that he’s anti-American, that his health care plan would lead to “death panels.” Rick Perry has described Trump as a “cancer on conservatism” and said his movement is “a toxic mix of demagoguery and meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition” — indeed, but it was a mix that too many Republican leaders accepted as long as it worked for them.

This echo chamber deluded its believers to the point that it sometimes apparently killed them. During the 2009-10 flu pandemic, right-wing broadcasters like Limbaugh and Glenn Beck denounced the call for flu shots, apparently seeing it as a nefarious Obama plot.

The upshot was that Democrats were 50 percent more likely than Republicans to say that they would get flu shots, according to a peer-reviewed article in The Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. So when the pandemic killed up to 18,000 Americans, they presumably were disproportionately conservatives.

The Republican strategy also nurtured expectations at the grass roots that could never be met. “The Republican Party created Donald Trump,” said Erick Erickson, the conservative radio host, “because they made a lot of promises to their base and never kept them.”

This is a theme of a smart new book by E.J. Dionne Jr., “Why the Right Went Wrong,” who argues that Republican leaders repeatedly made unrealistic pledges — of smaller government, preservation of bygone values and an end to demographic change. “The history of contemporary American conservatism is a story of disappointment and betrayal,” he writes, and that helps explain the disenchantment with the Republican establishment.

Maybe Trump’s campaign will fall apart, but he has a huge lead in the polls in the South Carolina primary coming up, and he has already done enormous damage to the G.O.P. establishment.

So today the leading candidate for president in the party of Lincoln is an ill-informed, inexperienced, bigoted, sexist xenophobe. And he’s not a conservative at heart, just a pandering opportunist.

Donald Trump is the consequence of irresponsible politicking by Republican leaders, the culmination of decades of cultivating unrealistic expectations within the politics of resentment. It’s good to see leading Republicans standing up to him today, but the situation recalls the Chinese saying, qi hu nan xia — when you’re riding a tiger, the hard part is getting off.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

It’s a sad time for Hillary Clinton’s fans. Well, I guess that’s obvious, since she got clobbered in New Hampshire. But it’s the way she went down that was particularly painful. Bernie Sanders got more than half the women’s vote, mainly because younger women raced off to his corner in droves.

That triggered a generational cross-fire. “I’m frustrated and outraged by being constantly attacked by older feminists for my refusal to vote according to my gender,” a college sophomore told CNN.

Women tend to vote for candidates who support a strong social safety net, which is not exactly a problem in the current Democratic race. Historically, they’ve been less likely to show a particular preference for other women. I’ve always generalized that they won’t vote for men who yell. However, it appears that is totally inaccurate when the man in question is shouting, “Medicare for all!”

Still, the idea of a woman as president is a very important marker for people who grew up in a time when medical schools had tiny quotas for female students, newspapers had “help wanted” ads that divided everything by sex and half the population could get credit only in their husband’s or father’s name. Younger women don’t seem to share that yearning, and there are wounded feelings on both sides.

This is hardly the first time progressive women have had a generational conflict. Once women won the right to vote, the older suffragists wanted to keep battling for equal rights, while many of their juniors felt they had other things to do. “‘Feminism’ has become a term of opprobrium to the modern young woman,” wrote Dorothy Dunbar Bromley in a famous 1927 essay that suggested militants of the old school had a demoralizing tendency to wear unflattering shoes.

In the modern era, whenever cross-generational sniping occurred, younger women always had a champion in Gloria Steinem. “Their activism is fantastic,” she told me in a post-New Hampshire phone interview. Steinem, a Clinton supporter, was drawn into the fray when, during a TV appearance, she seemed to be suggesting that younger women were supporting Sanders because they wanted to meet boys. She says she misspoke, that she was talking about issues of power, not sex: “The person who’s being written about is not me.” Garbling a message is something that can definitely happen on the umpteenth leg of a book tour, and if anybody has earned the right to be taken at her word, it’s Steinem.

It’s easy to see why Sanders is attracting the youth vote. His events are electric. When he demands free tuition at public colleges and universities, the audience is practically orating with him, calling out their student loans (“Over 200,000, Columbia University graduate school!”). When he goes into his Medicare-for-all health care system, they shout their insurance deductibles (“5,000 … for a single person!”).

On the other hand, he hasn’t grown much as a candidate. All politicians tend to give the same stump speech over and over, but Sanders is practically in the Marco Rubio category when it comes to repetition. Clinton is nowhere near Sanders’s class as an orator, but there can be something compelling in her willingness to just dig in and trust the audience to follow.

Listening to Sanders wow a crowd in New Hampshire, I remembered a 2007 speech Clinton made in her first New Hampshire primary campaign. She called for an end to a tax loophole known as “carried interest” that’s beloved by hedge fund managers. Clinton wasn’t the first candidate on that particular bus, but what struck me was the time she took to explain how the system worked and how she was going to change it. She was totally fearless when it came to risking boredom in pursuit of an issue.

Strong as the emotions are in the Clinton and Sanders camps, both sides have to feel sort of chipper when they look over at the Republicans, who are engaged in something between professional wrestling and Godzilla Versus Rodan.

Plus, that generational divide has a positive side. The women who grew up in Clinton’s time thought of a female president as a distant, glorious achievement, like going to the moon. Then the moon landing happened, but they still couldn’t get a car loan in their own names.

It took almost 40 more years before a woman won a major presidential primary. That was, of course, Clinton in 2008 in New Hampshire. She didn’t win the election, but she was so credible, and finished so strong, that the nation came away believing a woman in the White House was a completely normal idea.

If the younger voters who are flocking to Bernie Sanders don’t share their elders’ intense feelings about needing to elect a woman president right now, it’s partly because Hillary Clinton helped create a different world. So no matter what comes next, everybody’s a winner.

Krugman’s blog, 2/8 and 2/9/16

February 10, 2016

There were two posts on Monday and one yesterday.  Monday’s first post was “Structural Humbug Revisited:”

Bryan Caplan reports that he has just won a bet with Tyler Cowen over whether unemployment would ever drop below 5 percent. It might be worth remembering the context.

You see, when the Great Recession struck — a demand-side shock if ever there was one — it took no time at all for a strange consensus to develop in elite opinion, to the effect that a large part of the rise in unemployment was “structural,” and could not be reversed simply by a recovery in demand. Workers just didn’t have the right skills, you see. Many of us argued at length that this was foolish. If skills were the problem, where were the occupations with rapidly rising wages? I pointed out that people said the same thing during the Great Depression, only to see it disproved when we finally got a big fiscal stimulus called World War II.

But the doctrine somehow just got stronger and stronger in elite circles, because it sounded serious and judicious, unlike the seemingly flighty proposition that all we needed was more spending. In fact, the notion that our unemployment problem was mainly structural began to be presented as a simple fact rather than as a hypothesis most professional economists rejected.

And here we are.

Monday’s second post was “Hard Money Men:”

So what will happen in NH tomorrow? I have no idea. We must dispel with this notion that anyone has the slightest idea what they are doing. However, there seems to be a real possibility for one thing that seemed unlikely before the RubiOS bug manifested itself: that John Kasich will come in second on the Republican side.

If he does, there will be an outpouring of praise from self-proclaimed centrists, who will declare Kasich the sensible, responsible Republican of their dreams. So let me attempt what will surely be a futile preemptive strike, and note that on economic policy — which sort of matters — Kasich is terrible, arguably worse than the rest of the GOP field.

It’s not just his balanced-budget fetishism, which would be disastrous in an economic crisis. He’s also a hard-money man.

Ted Cruz has gotten some scrutiny, although not enough, for hisgoldbuggism. But Kasich, when asked why wages have stagnated,gave as his number one reason “because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low” — because this diverted investment into stocks, or something. No, it doesn’t make any sense — but it tells you that he is viscerally opposed to monetary as well as fiscal stimulus in the face of high unemployment.

So no, Kasich isn’t sensible. He’s just off the wall in ways that differ in some ways from the GOP mainstream. If he’d been president in 2009-10, we’d have had a full replay of the Great Depression.

Yesterday’s post was “Bonds on the Run:”


Bloomberg News

While we obsess over domestic politics — not that there’s anything wrong with that, since a lot depends on whether the next leader of the world’s most powerful nation is a racist xenophobe, a sinister theocrat, an empty suit, or all of the above — something scary is going on in financial markets, where bond prices in particular are indicating near-panic.

I know, Paul Samuelson famously quipped that the stock market had predicted nine of the last five recessions; the wisdom of crowds is often overrated. Still, bond markets are a bit less flighty than stocks, and also more closely tied to the economic outlook. (A weak economy has mixed effects on stocks — low profits but also low interest rates — while it has an unambiguous effect on bonds.) What plunging rates tell us is that markets are expecting very weak economies and possibly deflation for years to come, if not full-blown crisis.

Among other things, such a world would be a very bad place into which to elect a member of a party that has spent the past 7 years inveighing against both fiscal and monetary stimulus, and has learned nothing from the utter failure of its predictions to come true.

Bobo from yesterday, Friedman and Bruni

February 10, 2016

I had some minor eye surgery yesterday, so didn’t spend any time on the computer.  But I couldn’t POSSIBLY not post Bobo’s cri de coeur from yesterday, titled, and you can’t make this stuff up, “I Miss Barack Obama.”  Turns out that President Obama is okay after all…  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Let’s skip the disingenuous ode to Obama. Of course he’s a decent man. But instead of mourning the upcoming loss of his grace and equanimity, we ought to be lamenting the loss of eight years of potential that Republicans squandered in their utter refusal to work with him. Conservatives like Mr. Brooks have undermined everything he’s stood for, and helped to create the polarized chaos out of which these embarrassing excuses for Republican candidates have emerged.  Brooks dismisses them all, except that he find Rubio charming when he breaks out in a nervous sweat and robotically repeats talking points under the pressure of a Republican debate. Imagine how charming he’ll be when North Korea launches missiles.”  Poor Bobo has a terrible case of the flop sweats.  Today The Moustache of Wisdom ponders “The Many Mideast Solutions” and says our presidential candidates can retire their platitudes about standing with Israeli and Sunni Arab allies.  Mr. Bruni considers “Feminism, Hell and Hillary Clinton” and says gender informs her quest, but it’s not the main reason to be for or against her.  Here’s Bobo from yesterday:

As this primary season has gone along, a strange sensation has come over me: I miss Barack Obama. Now, obviously I disagree with a lot of Obama’s policy decisions. I’ve been disappointed by aspects of his presidency. I hope the next presidency is a philosophic departure.

But over the course of this campaign it feels as if there’s been a decline in behavioral standards across the board. Many of the traits of character and leadership that Obama possesses, and that maybe we have taken too much for granted, have suddenly gone missing or are in short supply.

The first and most important of these is basic integrity. The Obama administration has been remarkably scandal-free. Think of the way Iran-contra or the Lewinsky scandals swallowed years from Reagan and Clinton.

We’ve had very little of that from Obama. He and his staff have generally behaved with basic rectitude. Hillary Clinton is constantly having to hold these defensive press conferences when she’s trying to explain away some vaguely shady shortcut she’s taken, or decision she has made, but Obama has not had to do that.

He and his wife have not only displayed superior integrity themselves, they have mostly attracted and hired people with high personal standards. There are all sorts of unsightly characters floating around politics, including in the Clinton camp and in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. This sort has been blocked from team Obama.

Second, a sense of basic humanity. Donald Trump has spent much of this campaign vowing to block Muslim immigration. You can only say that if you treat Muslim Americans as an abstraction. President Obama, meanwhile, went to a mosque, looked into people’s eyes and gave a wonderful speech reasserting their place as Americans.

He’s exuded this basic care and respect for the dignity of others time and time again. Let’s put it this way: Imagine if Barack and Michelle Obama joined the board of a charity you’re involved in. You’d be happy to have such people in your community. Could you say that comfortably about Ted Cruz? The quality of a president’s humanity flows out in the unexpected but important moments.

Third, a soundness in his decision-making process. Over the years I have spoken to many members of this administration who were disappointed that the president didn’t take their advice. But those disappointed staffers almost always felt that their views had been considered in depth.

Obama’s basic approach is to promote his values as much as he can within the limits of the situation. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has been so blinded by his values that the reality of the situation does not seem to penetrate his mind.

Take health care. Passing Obamacare was a mighty lift that led to two gigantic midterm election defeats. As Megan McArdle pointed out in her Bloomberg View column, Obamacare took coverage away from only a small minority of Americans. Sanderscare would take employer coverage away from tens of millions of satisfied customers, destroy the health insurance business and levy massive new tax hikes. This is epic social disruption.

To think you could pass Sanderscare through a polarized Washington and in a country deeply suspicious of government is to live in intellectual fairyland. President Obama may have been too cautious, especially in the Middle East, but at least he’s able to grasp the reality of the situation.

Fourth, grace under pressure. I happen to find it charming that Marco Rubio gets nervous on the big occasions — that he grabs for the bottle of water, breaks out in a sweat and went robotic in the last debate. It shows Rubio is a normal person. And I happen to think overconfidence is one of Obama’s great flaws. But a president has to maintain equipoise under enormous pressure. Obama has done that, especially amid the financial crisis. After Saturday night, this is now an open question about Rubio.

Fifth, a resilient sense of optimism. To hear Sanders or Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson campaign is to wallow in the pornography of pessimism, to conclude that this country is on the verge of complete collapse. That’s simply not true. We have problems, but they are less serious than those faced by just about any other nation on earth.

People are motivated to make wise choices more by hope and opportunity than by fear, cynicism, hatred and despair. Unlike many current candidates, Obama has not appealed to those passions.

No, Obama has not been temperamentally perfect. Too often he’s been disdainful, aloof, resentful and insular. But there is a tone of ugliness creeping across the world, as democracies retreat, as tribalism mounts, as suspiciousness and authoritarianism take center stage.

Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.

About the only thing I’ll add to that is to take everything he said with a larger than usual pinch of pink Himalayan salt because he cited Megan “Where Does That Decimal Point Go?” McArdle.  Now we get to TMOW:

In December at the Brookings Saban Forum on the Middle East, Atlantic magazine reporter Jeff Goldberg asked the right-wing former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this provocative question: “Things are shifting radically not only in non-Jewish America but in Jewish America as it concerns Israel and its reputation. My question is: (A) Do you care? (B) What are you going to do about it? And (C) how important is it to you?”

“To speak frankly, I don’t care,” Lieberman responded, adding that Israel lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Give Lieberman credit for honesty: I don’t really care what American Jews or non-Jews think about Israel.

That conversation came back to me as I listened to the Democratic and Republican debates when they briefly veered into foreign policy, with candidates spouting the usual platitudes about standing with our Israeli and Sunni Arab allies. Here’s a news flash: You can retire those platitudes. Whoever becomes the next president will have to deal with a totally different Middle East.

It will be a Middle East shaped by struggle over a one-state solution, a no-state solution, a non-state solution and a rogue-state solution.

That is, a one-state solution in Israel, a no-state solution in Syria, Yemen and Libya, a non-state solution offered by the Islamic caliphate and a rogue-state solution offered by Iran.

Start with Israel. The peace process is dead. It’s over, folks, so please stop sending the New York Times Op-Ed page editor your proposals for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The next U.S. president will have to deal with an Israel determined to permanently occupy all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, including where 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians live.

How did we get there? So many people stuck knives into the peace process it’s hard to know who delivered the mortal blow. Was it the fanatical Jewish settlers determined to keep expanding their footprint in the West Bank and able to sabotage any Israeli politician or army officer who opposed them? Was it right-wing Jewish billionaires, like Sheldon Adelson, who used their influence to blunt any U.S. congressional criticism of Bibi Netanyahu?

Or was it Netanyahu, whose lust to hold onto his seat of power is only surpassed by his lack of imagination to find a secure way to separate from the Palestinians? Bibi won: He’s now a historic figure — the founding father of the one-state solution.

And Hamas is the mother. Hamas devoted all its resources to digging tunnels to attack Israelis from Gaza rather than turning Gaza into Singapore, making a laughingstock of Israeli peace advocates. And Hamas launched a rocket close enough to Tel Aviv’s airport that the U.S. banned all American flights for a day, signaling to every Israeli, dove or hawk, what could happen if they ceded the West Bank.

But Hamas was not alone. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sacked the only effective Palestinian prime minister ever, Salam Fayyad, who was dedicated to fighting corruption and proving that Palestinians deserved a state by focusing on building institutions, not U.N. resolutions.

They all killed the two-state solution. Let the one-state era begin. It will involve a steady low-grade civil war between Palestinians and Israelis and a growing Israeli isolation in Europe and on college campuses that the next U.S. president will have to navigate.

Meanwhile, a no-state Syria — a Syria that Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian backers only partly control — will be a chest wound bleeding refugees into Europe. I am certain that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is deliberately bombing anti-regime Syrians to drive them into Europe in hopes of creating a rift in the European Union, strain its resources and make it a weaker rival to Russia and a weaker ally for America.

And the non-state Sunni caliphate (ISIS) and rogue-state Shiite Iran will feed off each other. I love it when both Democratic and Republican candidates say, “When I am president, I’ll get Sunni Arabs to take the lead in fighting ISIS.” Gosh, I bet Obama never thought of that!

The Sunni Arabs are never going to destroy a non-state ISIS as long as Iran behaves like a Shiite rogue state, not a normal one. It’s true, Iran is a great civilization. It could dominate the region with the dynamism of its business class, universities, science and arts. But Iran’s ayatollahs don’t trust their soft power. They prefer instead to go rogue, to look for dignity in all the wrong places — by using Shiite proxies to dominate four Arab capitals: Beirut, Damascus, Sana and Baghdad.

So my advice to all the candidates is: Keep talking about the fantasy Middle East. I can always use a good bedtime story to fall asleep. But get ready for the real thing. This is not your grandfather’s Israel anymore, it’s not your oil company’s Saudi Arabia anymore, it’s not your NATO’s Turkey anymore, it’s not your cabdriver’s Iran anymore and it’s not your radical chic college professor’s Palestine anymore. It’s a wholly different beast now, slouching toward Bethlehem.

And now we get to Mr. Bruni:

I’m 51. My health is decent. And while my mother died young, there’s longevity elsewhere in the family tree.

I could live to see an openly gay presidential candidate with a real chance of victory.

Will there be a “special place in hell” for me if I, as a gay man, don’t support him or her?

I can guess Madeleine Albright’s answer. She more or less told women that they’re damned if they’re not on Hillary Clinton’s team.

I’m still trying to get my head around that — and around Gloria Steinem’s breathtakingly demeaning assertion that young women who back Bernie Sanders are in thrall to pheromones, not ideas or idealism, and angling to score dates with the young bucks in the Sanders brigade.

That’s right, “democratic socialism” is a known aphrodisiac: the oyster of politics. There’s nothing like denunciations of oligarchs to put you in the mood.

Also, has Steinem forgotten about lesbians? More than a few of them support Sanders, and it’s not because of the way some 26-year-old doctoral candidate looks in his L. L. Bean flannel.

There’s a weird strain of thought swirling around Clinton’s campaign: that we should vote for her because she’s a woman. Or that she’s inoculated from certain flaws or accusations by dint of gender. Or that, at the least, there’s an onus on forward-looking people who care about gender inequality to promote her candidacy.

I care about gender inequality, and I don’t buy it. It’s bad logic. It’s even worse strategy. People don’t vote out of shame. They vote out of hope.

Perhaps that was among the lessons of Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where she lost to Sanders among all women by at least seven percentage points, according to exit polling, and among women under 30 by more than 60 points.

Clinton is on sturdy ground, morally and tactically, when she mentions a double standard for women. So are her surrogates. Actually, there are so many double standards that you couldn’t fit them in a column eight times the length of this one, and she has bumped into plenty, including, yes, the fuss over her raised voice.

But the argument that she’s somehow not a full-fledged member of the establishment because she’s a woman — as she contended during the most recent Democratic debate — is nonsense. On that night, she also echoed a past statement to CBS News that she “cannot imagine anyone being more of an outsider than the first woman president.”

Really? Anyone? Off the top of my head I can think of a person who might quibble with that. His name is Barack Obama.

Admittedly, there’s no easy way to navigate the terrain she inhabits. Eight years ago, she denied her campaign the romantic sweep of Obama’s by playing down and trying to correct for gender. This time around, she was advised, rightly, not to repeat that mistake. But how to do that without going too far?

I think she started out perfectly, with incontestable reflections on women’s challenges in the workplace and with casual asides about the historic nature of her bid. Discussing her age, she said, “I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

But more recently, things have fallen out of whack. Bill Clinton’s diatribeabout the misogyny of some Sanders supporters sounded like a defensive outsourcing of blame for the Clinton campaign’s disappointments in the polls and the returns: the narrowest of victories in Iowa followed by the resounding New Hampshire defeat.

The Clintons are always quick to point fingers and slow to look in the mirror. On top of which, Bill Clinton’s invocation of sexism felt too pat, his citation of gross language on Twitter (which, sadly, brims with it) too easy.

Clinton’s gender indeed matters. Just as you couldn’t properly evaluate Obama’s arc without factoring in race, you can’t see her accurately without recognizing that she’s a woman of her time, with all the attendant obstacles, hurts, compromises and tenacity.

That informs — and, ideally, illuminates — her perspective. And her presidency would carry a powerful, constructive symbolism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But those are considerations among many, many others in taking her measure and in casting a vote. To focus only or primarily on them is more reductive than respectful, and to tell women in particular what kind of politics they should practice is the antithesis of feminism, which advocates independence and choices.

We’re all complicated people voting for complicated people. We’re not census subgroups falling in line.

I’ll go to the barricades for that imagined gay candidate if he or she has talents I trust, positions I respect and a character I admire. If not, I’ll probably go elsewhere, because being gay won’t be the sum of that person, just as womanhood isn’t where Clinton begins and ends.

Krugman’s blog, 2/6/16

February 8, 2016

There were two posts on Saturday, and none yesterday.  Saturday’s first post was “In Defense of Funny Diagrams (Wonkish):”

It’s all very simple
It’s all very simple.

Brad DeLong asks a question about which of the various funny diagrams economists love should be taught in Econ 101. I say production possibilities yes, Edgeworth box no — which, strange to say, is how we deal with this issue in Krugman/Wells. But students who go on to major in economics should be exposed to the box — and those who go on to grad school really, really need to have seen it, and in general need more simple general-equilibrium analysis than, as far as I can tell, many of them get these days.

There was, clearly, a time when economics had too many pictures. But now, I suspect, it doesn’t have enough.

OK, this is partly a personal bias. My own mathematical intuition, and a lot of my economic intuition in general, is visual: I tend to start with a picture, then work out both the math and the verbal argument to make sense of that picture. (Sometimes I have to learn the math, as I did on target zones; the picture points me to the math I need.) I know that’s not true for everyone, but it’s true for a fair number of students, who should be given the chance to learn things that way.

Beyond that, pictures are often the best way to convey global insights about the economy — global in the sense of thinking about all possibilities as opposed to small changes, not as in theworldisflat.

The reason I believe we should teach the production possibility frontier is that it gives students a way to think about what efficiency means — if you want to explain inefficiency in production, you put a point inside the PPF, if you want to explain inefficiency in allocation, you talk about choosing the wrong point on the PPF. The Edgeworth box is good for explaining what it takes to be efficient in production and also efficient in distribution — I learned all of this from the classic Francis Bator paper on welfare maximization — but is just too hard for freshpeople.

I also retain, even after all these years, a soft spot for at least some of the profusion of diagrams that characterized trade theory when I was a student. Some of it reached ridiculous levels — “you see, you can derive trade indifference curves by sliding the production possibility block along consumer indifference curves” — but some of that machinery can be very useful as tools for clarification.

And as I said, I have the sense that too many majors and/or grad students were shortchanged on this front. They can do game theory, they can solve sets of equations, but their sense of how the pieces fit together is lacking, and — at least in some seminars I’ve sat in on — too many don’t have the technique to cut through what should be easily avoidable confusion. (I sometimes find myself wanting to shout “Use an offer curve, dammit!”)

Now, it’s true that the real economy isn’t characterized by competitive general equilibrium. But it’s still a useful baseline — not so much an idealization as a description of how things should be, which helps to cast how they really are into much sharper relief.

Draw, baby, draw.

Saturday’s second post was “Electability:”

If you are still on the fence in the Democratic primary, or still persuadable, you should know that Vox interviewed a number of political scientists about the electability of Bernie Sanders, and got responses ranging from warnings about a steep uphill climb to predictions of a McGovern-Nixon style blowout defeat. And all of them dismiss current polls as meaningless.

You are, of course, free to disagree. But you need to carefully explain why you disagree — what evidence do you have suggesting that these scholars’ conclusions, which are based on history and data, not just gut feelings, are wrong?

And there are two really unacceptable answers that I’m sure will pop up again and again in comments. One is to dismiss all such analyses as the product of corruption — they’re all bought and paid for by Wall Street, or looking for a job in a Clinton administration. No, they aren’t. The other is to say that you’re willing to take the chance, because Clinton would be just as bad as a Republican. That’s what Naderites said about Al Gore; how’d that work out?

I have some views of my own, of course, but I’m not a political scientist, man — I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously. What I do bring to this kind of discussion, I hope, is an awareness of two kinds of sin that can corrupt political discussion.

The obvious sin involves actually selling one’s views. And that does happen, of course.

But what happens even more, in my experience, is an intellectual sin whose effects can be just as bad: self-indulgence. By this I mean believing things, and advocating for policies, because you like the story rather than because you have any good evidence that it’s true. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years going after this sort of thing on the right, where things like the claim that Barney Frank somehow caused the financial crisis so often prevail in the teeth of overwhelming evidence. But it can happen on the left, too — which is why, for example, I’m still very cautious about claims that inequality is bad for growth.

On electability, by all means consider the evidence and reach your own conclusions. But do consider the evidence — don’t decide what you want to believe and then make up justifications. The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 8, 2016

In “Hillary Has ‘Half a Dream'” Mr. Blow says practicality and realistic goals are proving to be a handicap for Mrs. Clinton when it comes to young voters.  Mr. Cohen has produced a thing called “America’s Syrian Shame” in which he howls that Putin’s policy is hard to distinguish from Obama’s, and that America’s capitulation is complete, with appalling results.  In the comments “TDurk” from Rochester, NY had this to say:  “Really? President Obama’s Syrian policy has contributed to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino? That our president is not really interested in Europe?  When did Roger Cohen announce his candidacy for the republican presidential nomination? His non-logic and emotional assertions would fit in perfectly with that political circus.”  Prof. Krugman considers “The Time-Loop Party” and says Republican candidates keep repeating their canned policy statements, despite evidence that these prescriptions have failed in the real world.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Durham, NH:

One of the most striking statistics to come of the Iowa caucus entry polling was the enormous skew of young voters away from Hillary Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. Only 14 percent of caucusgoers 17 to 29 supported Clinton, while 84 percent supported Sanders.

On Thursday, I traveled to the University of New Hampshire, site of a debate between Clinton and Sanders that night. Before the debate, I mingled on campus with people rallying for both candidates, with the Sanders rally many times larger than the Clinton one. The energy for Sanders at the school was electric.

For the actually debate, I went to a debate-watching party for Clinton supporters at the Three Chimneys Inn, just off campus. There were more heads of white hair in that room than a jar of cotton balls.

The two scenes so close to each other drove home the point for me: Hillary Clinton has a threatening young voter problem.

Young folks are facing a warming planet, exploding student debt, stunted mobility, stagnant wages and the increasing corporatization of the country due in part to the increasing consolidation of wealth and the impact of that wealth on American institutions.

Young folks are staring down a barrel and they want to put a flower in it, or conversely, smash it to bits. And they’re angry at those who came before them for doing too little, too late. They want a dramatic correction, and they want it now.

Sanders’s rhetoric plays well to young folks’ anxiety and offers a ray of hope. He wants to fix the system they see as broken, and he’s not new to those positions. He has held many of the same positions most of his life, but they have never had as much resonance as they do now. Never mind that Sanders has been in Congress for decades and doesn’t have the stronger record of accomplishments, as my colleague Nick Kristof put it last week.

Sanders is good at setting the goals, but not so good at getting there.

When people question Sanders on the feasibility of pushing his ambitious policies through an obstructionist, Republican-controlled Congress, he often responds with the broad and loose talk of a political revolution, like he put it in his closing remarks Thursday:

“I do believe we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly that our government belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

What he is saying is that a political revolution, meaning massive numbers of new voters and unprecedented voter turnout by people who support his policies, would result in flipping control of Congress and an easier path to his policies’ passage and implementation.

But if Iowa is any measure, that revolution has yet to materialize, and indeed, may never.

Iowa did see a record number of caucusgoers … for the Republican candidate. The number of Democratic caucusgoers fell significantly, and half of those went to Clinton.

As RealClearPolitics reported:

“The trend line is positive for Republicans (turnout up 54 percent from 2012) and negative for Democrats (turnout was down 22 percent from 2008).”

This doesn’t sound anything like the kind of numbers Sanders would need to push his agenda forward, and he knows that. If anything, it sounds like the budding of another Republican revolution. But these facts are ones that would never pass Sanders’s lips. They would puncture the balloon and end his ascendance.

Clinton, on the other hand, represents much of what they distrust or even despise. There is an aura of ethical ambiguity — from the emails to the Wall Street paid speeches to the super PACs. (There is growing pressure for her to release the transcripts of those speeches and have the content of them compared to her public pronouncement.) There is the legacy of her military hawkishness, including her Iraq war vote. There is the articulation of her positions that are at odds with young folks’ aspirations and sensibilities, like saying Thursday, “I don’t believe in free college,” and saying that she continues to support capital punishment.

But possibly the most damaging of Clinton’s attributes is, ironically, her practicality. As one person commented to me on social media: Clinton is running an I-Have-Half-A-Dream campaign. That simply doesn’t inspire young people brimming with the biggest of dreams. Clinton’s message says: Aim lower, think smaller, move slower. It says, I have more modest ambitions, but they are more realistic.

As Clinton put it Thursday in a swipe at Sanders, “I’m not making promises that I cannot keep.”

But the pragmatic progressive line is not going to help her chip away at Sanders’s support among the young. That support is hardening into hipness. Supporting Sanders is quickly becoming the thing to do if you are young and want to appeal to those who are. Clinton’s time to reverse that is quickly running out, and a strategy of simply holding out long enough so that the heavy black and brown support for her counters it may not be sufficient.

And if those young voters don’t turn out and vote for Hillary if she’s the nominee they will deserve the hell that they’ll unleash on us all.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen, foaming at the mouth:

The Putin policy in Syria is clear enough as the encirclement of rebel-held Aleppo proceeds and tens of thousands more Syrians flee toward the Turkish border. It is to entrench the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad by controlling the useful part of Syrian territory, bomb the moderate opposition into submission, block any possibility of Western-instigated regime change, use diplomatic blah-blah in Geneva as cover for changing the facts on the ground, and, maybe fifth or sixth down the list, strengthen the Syrian Army to the point it may one day confront the murderous jihadist stronghold of the Islamic State.

The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.

Sure, the Obama administration still pays lip service to the notion that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution, and that if the Syrian leader may survive through some political transition period he cannot remain beyond that. But these are words. It is President Vladimir Putin and Russia who are “making the weather” in Syria absent any corresponding commitment or articulable policy from President Obama.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is now virtually encircled by the Syrian Army. A war that has already produced a quarter of a million dead, more than 4.5 million refugees, some 6.5 million internally displaced, and the destabilization of Europe through a massive influx of terrorized people, is about to see further abominations as Aleppo agonizes.

Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria. It is already the Munich.

By which I mean that the city’s plight today, its exposure to Putin’s whims and a revived Assad’s pitiless designs, is a result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration. The president and his aides have hidden at various times behind the notions that Syria is marginal to core American national interests; that they have thought through the downsides of intervention better than others; that the diverse actors on the ground are incomprehensible or untrustworthy; that there is no domestic or congressional support for taking action to stop the war or shape its outcome; that there is no legal basis for establishing “safe areas” or taking out Assad’s air power; that Afghanistan and Iraq are lessons in the futility of projecting American power in the 21st century; that Syria will prove Russia’s Afghanistan as it faces the ire of the Sunni world; and that the only imperative, whatever the scale of the suffering or the complete evisceration of American credibility, must be avoidance of another war in the Middle East.

Where such feeble evasions masquerading as strategy lead is to United States policy becoming Putin’s policy in Syria, to awkward acquiescence to Moscow’s end game, and to embarrassed shrugs encapsulating the wish that — perhaps, somehow, with a little luck — Putin may crush ISIS.

Obama’s Syrian agonizing, his constant what-ifs and recurrent “what then?” have also lead to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino. They have contributed to a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide — to which the United States has responded by taking in around 2,500 Syrians since 2012, or about 0.06 percent of the total.

“The Syrian crisis is now a European crisis,” a senior European diplomat told me. “But the president is not interested in Europe.” That is a fair assessment of the first postwar American leader for whom the core trans-Atlantic alliance was something to be dutifully upheld rather than emotionally embraced.

Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.

Obama’s decision in 2013, at a time when ISIS scarcely existed, not to uphold the American “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a pivotal moment in which he undermined America’s word, incurred the lasting fury of Sunni Gulf allies, shored up Assad by not subjecting him to serious one-off punitive strikes, and opened the way for Putin to determine Syria’s fate.

Putin policy is American policy because the United States has offered no serious alternative. As T.S. Eliot wrote after Munich in 1938, “We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us.” Syria has been the bloody graveyard of American conviction.

It is too late, as well as pure illusion, to expect significant change in Obama’s Syria policy. Aleppo’s agony will be drawn-out. But the president should at least do everything in his power, as suggested in a report prepared by Michael Ignatieff at the Harvard Kennedy School, to “surge” the number of Syrian refugees taken in this year to 65,000 from his proposed 10,000. As the report notes, “If we allow fear to dictate policy, terrorists win.”

Putin already has.

And now we finally get to Prof. Krugman:

By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Mr. Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

These are related stories.

Mr. Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 million private-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

But Republican faith in tax cuts as a universal economic elixir has, if anything, grown stronger, with Mr. Rubio, in particular, going even further than the other candidates by promising to eliminate all taxes on capital gains.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy the required G.O.P. position has become one of utter confidence in the effectiveness of military force. How did that work in Iraq? Never mind: The only reason anybody in the world fails to do exactly what America wants must be because our leadership is lily-livered if not treasonous. And diplomacy, no matter how successful, is denounced as appeasement.

Not incidentally, the shared Republican stance on foreign policy is basically the same view Richard Hofstadter famously described in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: Whenever America fails to impose its will on the rest of the world, it must be because it has been betrayed. The John Birch Society has won the war for the party’s soul.

But don’t all politicians spout canned answers that bear little relationship to reality? No.

Like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a genuine policy wonk, who can think on her feet and clearly knows what she is talking about on many issues. Bernie Sanders is much more of a one-note candidate, but at least his signature issue — rising inequality and the effects of money on politics — reflects real concerns. When you revisit Democratic debates after what went down Saturday, it doesn’t feel as if you’re watching a different party, it feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe.

So how did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate. But there must be deeper causes behind the creation of that bubble.

Whatever the ultimate reason, however, the point is that while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.

Krugman’s blog, 2/5/16

February 6, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Remembrance of Forecasts Past:”

So, do you remember this? Romney vows to lower unemployment rate to 6 percent by end of first term.

Ahem:

But everyone makes bad forecasts; Republicans are still going on about the over-optimism of the Romer-Bernstein forecast of early 2009, insisting that it proves that the stimulus was a failure. So is making fun of Mitt Romney anything more than a case of turnabout being fair play?

Actually, yes.

The big problem with Romer-Bernstein was not that they over-estimated the effectiveness of fiscal policy. In fact, their assumed multiplier of 1.5 still looks very good in the light of subsequent research and events. For example, the euro area carried out a sort of natural experiment from 2009 to 2013, in which some but not all countries were forced into drastic austerity policies. If we plot the change in structural budget surpluses as a share of GDP against GDP growth, we get this:

And a regression finds a multiplier of, um, 1.53. Similar numbers come out of a variety of approaches. So the analytics of Romer-Bernstein on policy look quite good; their mistake was to underestimate the damage the financial crisis would do.

Republican predictions of Obamadoom, on the other hand, were all about their claims about policy effects: the 2013 tax hike and the coming of Obamacare would be massive job-killers, they insisted again and again. So good employment performance really does count as a major disproof of their worldview.

Or to take a cheaper but still fair shot: imagine what they would be saying if Romney actually were president, and we had this jobs record.

Collins, solo

February 6, 2016

In “The Things We Love to Loathe” Ms. Collins says as New Hampshire goes, so goes everybody.  Here she is:

When it comes to bringing us all together, I don’t think anybody is better at it than Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli is a 32-year-old former hedge fund manager — see, I just said “hedge fund manager” and already masses of readers are shuddering in unison. He’s the one who bought rights to a drug needed for H.I.V. patients and then hiked the price 5,000 percent. He later appeared, wearing a hoodie, before a Forbes Healthcare Summit to say his only regret was that he had not raised it higher.

Yes! That guy! Naturally, all this drew a lot of congressional critics, and Shkreli expressed a yen for an honest exchange of opinions. (“I would berate them. I would insult them.”) He got his chance this week when he was called before the House oversight committee, where he took the Fifth, while smirking and twiddling a pencil.

This was the committee whose Democrats and Republicans kept shrieking at each other during the Benghazi hearings. Now, every member was united in a bipartisan desire to leap over the table and strangle the witness. Nobody has brought forth so much shared emotion since the video of Nora the Piano Cat.

The point here is that there really are a few things we can agree on, even in these troubled times. In the spirit of Shkreli, let’s look for some others on the campaign trail:

Rick Santorum is the worst friend in the world. Santorum, a former senator, was running for president until this week, when he reminded the nation that he was in the campaign by resigning from it. He then announced he was endorsing Marco Rubio.

That won Santorum an invitation to appear on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to talk about his big decision. Asked what it was about Rubio’s performance as a senator that impressed him, he said: “I guess it’s hard to say there are accomplishments.” Pressed on that interesting take, Santorum continued helpfully: “The first four years he was in the minority and nothing got done. And by the way, what happened this year under the Republicans that he got done?”

Recovering from that bout with sentence structure, Santorum closed by noting that the public was “looking not at someone with accomplishments and a track record but someone who had a — who was considered someone who was an outsider.”

We are enjoying the idea that Donald Trump screwed up the deal. If he fades in New Hampshire, will it be because he hasn’t been able to master the business side of the game — direct mail, polling, organization? If so, was he possibly too cheap to pay for it? The campaign says absolutely no, but it’s a lot of fun asking.

Hillary Clinton should not have given those speeches for Goldman Sachs. Clinton did very well at a Democratic forum and debate this week. Except when she was asked, during the forum, why she accepted $675,000 for giving three speeches for the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. (“That’s what they offered.”) She had a somewhat less awful response at the debate, but then was unable to say whether she’d ever release the speech transcripts. (“I will look into it.”) The situation here is clear. Clinton is never going to say she’s sorry, release transcripts or announce that she’s decided to clear everything up by donating $675,000 to charity. It is what it is, and you’re going to have to take it or leave it.

It’s kind of pathetic they’re not letting Carly Fiorina into the Republican debate. True, she’s irritating, but she’s the only real candidate who was excluded. You’ve already got seven guys on the stage, so what the heck. However, the world is probably not universally in agreement with Fiorina’s theory that she was the victim of a plot by ABC and the Republican National Committee to disempower New Hampshire voters because the other candidates are so afraid of her.

Marco Rubio gets really good jobs. We have heard a lot already about Rubio’s $800,000 advance for a very modest memoir about his formative years. And the billionaire auto dealer who donated $100,000 to Florida International University, where Rubio was hired as a visiting professor for $69,000. This week, NBC News reported that he worked less than 10 hours a week during his first semester at the teaching gig, missing three of his 10 classes.

Jeb Bush is the worst campaigner in the history of campaigns. New Hampshire is his kind of state, and this should be his resurrection moment. What do we have? A video of Bush delivering his zinger line to a silent room and telling the audience: “Please clap.” A campaign video of the candidate putting on a hoodie. Plus, I believe I speak for many people when I say that it is not a good sign when you have to drag in your 90-year-old mother.

And now he’s running an ad featuring C+ Augustus during the super bowl…  If there’s anything that should bury his campaign it should be that.

Krugman’s blog, 2/4/16

February 5, 2016

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Going Green, For Real:”

I wrote earlier this week about prospects for a renewables revolution; right on schedule, Bloomberg reports, A Renewables Revolution Is Toppling the Dominance of Fossil Fuels in U.S. Power. It turns out that solar and wind accounted for two-thirds of the generation capacity added last year.

Now, that’s not enough: coal-fired generation is slowly being phased out, but the process needs to go much faster, and while replacement of coal with natural gas could in principle be a net positive — less carbon, more hydrogen — in practice the leaks associated with fracking make that highly doubtful.

But the point you should take is that really dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are well within reach, requiring only moderate incentives rather than a complete teardown of the existing system.

Yesterday’s second post was “Rubio For The Rich:”

Josh Barro notes that Marco Rubio’s proposal to eliminate taxes on capital gains goes well beyond anything we’ve seen from previous Republican contenders, even highly conservative candidates. It seems worth adding some numbers on just how much this would be a giveaway to the very, very rich.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has the information, illustrated by the pie chart above. Half of taxes on dividends and long-term capital gains are paid, not by the 1 percent, but by the 0.1 percent — the richest 1/1000th of Americans. Another 29 percent are paid by the next 0.9 percent. Everyone else — the other 99 percent of the population — pays just 21 percent of the total.

So this is a tax cut not just for the rich, but for the very, very rich, with essentially nothing for the vast majority of Americans. And there is, as Barro says, absolutely no reason to believe that there would be large economic benefits from this giveaway.

Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

February 5, 2016

Sigh.  Bobo’s preaching again.  In “A Question of Moral Radicalism” he babbles that stories of extreme do-gooders are both inspiring and unnerving. So how altruistic must one be?  In the comments “Stuart” said “I am so incredibly tired of lectures from David Brooks about morals. Where has he been on the moral issues of the day? Absent or in support of his morally objectionable party.”  In “Europe’s Huddled Masses” Mr. Cohen says a digital migration of epic proportions is underway. But America is nowhere to be seen on the refugee crisis.  Prof. Krugman asks “Who Hates Obamacare?”  He says left-wing attacks on an imperfect program could undermine progressives’ interests.  Here’s Bobo:

At the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama told the story of a group of Americans who were captured by the Nazis during World War II. The head of the German prison camp gave an order that the Jewish soldiers step forward. An American master sergeant, Roddie Edmonds, ordered all of his men to step forward. The Nazi held a gun to the sergeant’s head and said, “These can’t all be Jewish.” The sergeant replied, “We are all Jews.” Rather than execute all of the men, the Nazi backed down.

That kind of moral heroism took place in extraordinary circumstances. But even today there are moral heroes making similar if less celebrated sacrifices than those soldiers were ready to make.

Larissa MacFarquhar’s recent book, “Strangers Drowning,” is about such people. She writes about radical do-gooders. One of her subjects started a leper colony in India. One couple had two biological children and then adopted 20 more kids who needed a home. A women risked rape to serve as a nurse in war-torn Nicaragua. One couple lived on $12,000 a year so they could donate the additional money they earned annually, about $50,000, to charity.

These people were often driven by moral rage and a need to be of pure service to the world. They tend to despise comfort and require a life that is difficult, ascetic and self-sacrificial. They yearn for the feeling that they are doing their utmost to relieve suffering. One abandoned a marriage to serve the poor.

For these extreme do-gooders, MacFarquhar writes, it is always wartime. There are always sufferers somewhere in the world as urgently in need of rescue as victims of a battle. The do-gooders feel themselves conscripted to duty.

Some radical do-gooders are what the philosopher Susan Wolf calls rational saints. It is their duty to reduce the sum total of suffering in the world, and the suffering of people halfway around the world is no different than the suffering of someone next door.

There’s a philosophy question: If you were confronted with the choice between rescuing your mother from drowning or two strangers, who should you rescue? With utilitarian logic, the rational saint would rescue the two strangers because saving two lives is better than saving one. Their altruism is impartial, universal and self-denying. “The evil in this world is the creation of those who make a distinction between the self and other,” one man MacFarquhar writes about says.

Others Wolf calls loving saints. They are good with others’ goodness, suffering in others’ pain. They are the ones holding the leper, talking to the potential suicide hour upon hour. Their service is radically personal, direct and not always pleasant.

This sort of radical selflessness forces us to confront our own lives. Should we all be living lives with as much moral heroism as these people? Given the suffering in the world, are we called to drop everything and give it our all? Did you really need that $4 Frappuccino when that money could have gone to the poor?

The argument against this sort of pure moral heroism is that fanaticism in the relief of suffering is still a form of fanaticism. It makes reciprocal relationships difficult, because one is always giving, never receiving. It can lead to a draconian asceticism that almost seems to invite unnecessary suffering.

Love, by its nature, should be strongest when it is personal and intimate. To make love universal, to give no priority to the near over the far, is to denude love of its texture and warmth. It is really a way of avoiding love because you make yourself invulnerable.

In an essay on Gandhi, George Orwell argued that the essence of being human is in the imperfect flux of life, not in the single-minded purity of sainthood. It is the shared beer, the lazy afternoon, the life of accepted imperfection. Full humanness is in having multiple messy commitments and pleasures, not one monistic duty that eclipses all else.

In a 1982 essay called “Moral Saints,” Wolf argued that the desire to be supremely good can never be just one desire among many; it demotes and subsumes all the other desires. She wrote that a world in which everybody strove to achieve moral sainthood “would probably contain less happiness than a world in which people realized a diversity of ideals involving a variety of personal and perfectionist values.”

As Andrew Kuper of LeapFrog Investments put it, sometimes you can do more good by buying that beautiful piece of furniture, putting somebody in Ghana to work.

Yet I don’t want to let us off the hook. There’s a continuum of moral radicalism. Most of us are too far on the comfortable end and too far from the altruistic one. It could be that you or I will only really feel fulfilled after a daring and concrete leap in the direction of moral radicalism.

Gawd, but he’s insufferable.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

From London to Athens Europe is questioned. Some people, mainly refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, are dying to get into the European Union. Many British conservatives are fighting to get out of it. Others, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, plot to undermine it. Yet others are bored by it. The 20th century and the strategic imperatives behind NATO and the European Union seem far away to wired millennials.

The two most powerful symbols of European integration — the euro that binds 19 European Union states in a currency union, and the Schengen accords that allow people to move freely between 22 borderless European Union nations — are in danger of unraveling under the pressure of polarized politics, diverging economic performance and the influx of more than one million desperate migrants and refugees in the past year.

There is an identity crisis. Christian Europe, a notion that Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary has turned into a kind of illusory fetish, is in fact much less Christian. Around 6 percent of the European population is Muslim today; by 2030 that figure will be 8 percent.

A small minority of those Muslims — told by online jihadi propagandists that there is no gray zone between Islam and the infidel, only the obligation to slaughter the unbeliever — drift off via Turkey to ISIS-held territory in Syria and return to kill — Charlie Hebdo, the Paris kosher supermarket, Paris sports and music halls and restaurants, the Brussels Jewish museum. Division and demagoguery spread. Xenophobic rightist parties thrive at the margins from Sweden to Greece.

At Cologne and Stockholm stations, in the two countries that have overwhelmingly taken in the most refugees, two rampages — by asylum seekers against women in Germany and by masked nationalist thugs against refugee children in Sweden — illustrate the tensions.

Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, recently told my colleague Jim Yardley, “This is not Europe. This is a nightmare.” That nightmare is one of looming fragmentation, violence and walls for the half-billion people now moving freely between Warsaw and Lisbon.

It can be averted. The Europe of today is not the Europe of the 1930s. In Berlin, Angela Merkel stands tall, a European leader of immense stature. Still, the fissuring pressures are intense.

Sometimes, as Yeats noted, “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.” We live in an age of unraveling. The postwar is over. The post-Cold War is over. The United States, under President Obama, has quietly stepped back from Europe. Washington is nowhere to be seen on the refugee crisis, the absent power, much as it was absent from the Minsk process on the Ukraine crisis.

The world is most dangerous in a power vacuum. The geopolitical divides across the world are the most marked in at least a generation. This makes every issue more intractable. The United Nations has proved a complete dud on Syria. It took almost five years, 250,000 dead and more than 11 million displaced people for the Security Council to pass a resolution on a “road map” to peace. That map, for now, is utter fiction. For as many years, Obama did nothing.

Now refugees stream from Syria and elsewhere into Europe. If they carried a banner, it should read, “Reap what you sow, feckless world.” A digital migration of epic proportions is underway. Each refugee carries a smartphone and knows his or her desired destination.

From this New Europe to New Hampshire, unpredictable forces are at play. Show me a Donald Trump, even a slightly Iowa-humbled one, and I’ll see you with a Marine Le Pen.

The strange thing is this troubled Europe has rescued the United States. That’s new. Without Merkel’s courageous decision to take in 1.1 million refugees last year, Europe would have faced catastrophe — and America, even in an election year, could not have ignored violent mayhem among its allies as borders closed and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” were cast adrift.

Another 65,000 refugees arrived in Germany in January, setting the country on course for 780,000 more this year. Some 200,000 mainly Muslim children are entering German schools. Imagine if America, which has four times the German population, were to register 800,000 mainly Muslim children in schools in a few months. On reflection, don’t even try.

Nobody knows what Germany’s limit is. But there is one. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union will turn on her if the numbers keep rising. Other European nations are not going to take significant quotas: There’s scant democratic support for the right and ethical thing to do.

So Germany has to cut a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. The deal will probably see Turkey getting piles of cash — and perhaps the visa waiver that Turks desperately want from Germany — in exchange for Turkey strictly curtailing the refugee flow to an agreed number who would not have to risk their lives in flimsy boats.

Turkish politics have become German domestic politics. A troubled Europe, cast loose from America, slouches toward Ankara to be saved.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

Ted Cruz had a teachable moment in Iowa, although he himself will learn nothing from it. A voter told Mr. Cruz the story of his brother-in-law, a barber who had never been able to afford health insurance. He finally got insurance thanks to Obamacare — and discovered that it was too late. He had terminal cancer, and nothing could be done.

The voter asked how the candidate would replace the law that might have saved his brother-in-law if it had been in effect earlier. Needless to say, all he got was boilerplate about government regulations and the usual false claims that Obamacare has destroyed “millions of jobs” and caused premiums to “skyrocket.”

For the record, job growth since the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect has been the best since the 1990s, and health costs have risen much more slowly than before.

So Mr. Cruz has a truth problem. But what else can we learn from this encounter? That the Affordable Care Act is already doing enormous good. It came too late to save one man’s life, but it will surely save many others. Why, then, do we hear not just conservatives but also many progressives trashing President Obama’s biggest policy achievement?

Part of the answer is that Bernie Sanders has chosen to make re-litigating reform, and trying for single-payer, a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. So some Sanders supporters have taken to attacking Obamacare as a failed system.

We saw something similar back in 2008, when some Obama supporters temporarily became bitter opponents of the individual mandate — the requirement that everyone buy insurance — which Hillary Clintonsupported but Mr. Obama opposed. (Once in office, he in effect conceded that she had been right, and included the mandate in his initiative.)

But the truth is, Mr. Sanders is just amplifying left-wing critiques of health reform that were already out there. And some of these critiques have merit. Others don’t.

Let’s start with the good critiques, which involve coverage and cost.

The number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply, especially in states that have tried to make the law work. But millions are still uncovered, and in some cases high deductibles make coverage less useful than it should be.

This isn’t inherent in a non-single-payer system: Other countries with Obamacare-type systems, like the Netherlands and Switzerland, do have near-universal coverage even though they rely on private insurers. But Obamacare as currently constituted doesn’t seem likely to get there, perhaps because it’s somewhat underfunded.

Meanwhile, although cost control is looking better than even reform advocates expected, America’s health care remains much more expensive than anyone else’s.

So yes, there are real issues with Obamacare. The question is how to address those issues in a politically feasible way.

But a lot of what I hear from the left is not so much a complaint about how the reform falls short as outrage that private insurers get to play any role. The idea seems to be that any role for the profit motive taints the whole effort.

That is, however, a really bad critique. Yes, Obamacare did preserve private insurance — mainly to avoid big, politically risky changes for Americans who already had good insurance, but also to buy support or at least quiescence from the insurance industry. But the fact that some insurers are making money from reform (and their profits are not, by the way, all that large) isn’t a reason to oppose that reform. The point is to help the uninsured, not to punish or demonize insurance companies.

And speaking of demonization: One unpleasant, ugly side of this debate has been the tendency of some Sanders supporters, and sometimes the campaign itself, to suggest that anyone raising questions about the senator’s proposals must be a corrupt tool of vested interests.

Recently Kenneth Thorpe, a respected health policy expert and a longtime supporter of reform, tried to put numbers on the Sanders plan, and concluded that it would cost substantially more than the campaign says. He may or may not be right, although most of the health wonks I know have reached similar conclusions.

But the campaign’s policy director immediately attacked Mr. Thorpe’s integrity: “It’s coming from a gentleman that worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield. It’s exactly what you would expect somebody who worked for B.C.B.S. to come up with.” Oh, boy.

And let’s be clear: This kind of thing can do real harm. The truth is that whomever the Democrats nominate, the general election is mainly going to be a referendum on whether we preserve the real if incomplete progress we’ve made on health, financial reform and the environment. The last thing progressives should be doing is trash-talking that progress and impugning the motives of people who are fundamentally on their side.

Krugman’s blog, 2/3/16

February 4, 2016

There was one post yesterday, “Half A Loaf, Financial Reform Edition:”

A lot of the debate over the Sanders insurgency hinges on whether you see Obama-era reforms as trivial, utterly inadequate to the problems, or as a half loaf that’s a lot better than none. (It also hinges on whether you believe that a Sanders candidacy could mobilize vast untapped wells of progressive sentiment, or whether you believe that he would be hit with a smear campaign like nothing you’ve seen before — except for what has already happened to Hillary Clinton, and is baked into her polling. You can guess what I think.)

On healthcare, people like me and most of the health wonks I know believe that Obamacare represents a huge step forward, while the Sanders wing tends to dismiss it as nothing much. I’ve been making the case that Obama energy policy is going to have a much bigger impact on climate change than many people think. But what about financial reform?

Well, it partly depends on what you consider the problem. I’ve been on record since early days saying that too-big-to-fail is not the key issue, so that the fact that big banks remain big is, um, no big deal. The real question — or so I’d argue — is leverage within the financial sector, and in particular the kind of leverage with no safety net that characterizes shadow banking.

So Matt O’Brien weighs in with evidence that leverage has in fact declined substantially, and continued to decline even as the economy expanded — probably because of Dodd-Frank. This is certainly right; the same decline shows up in other measures, as in the chart above showing financial sector debt securities as a percentage of GDP.

Should we have had a stiffer financial reform? Definitely — required capital ratios should be a lot higher than they are. But Dodd-Frank’s rules — especially, I think, the prospect of being classed as a SIFI, a strategically important institution subject to tighter constraints, have had a real effect in reducing risk.

The reality of the Obama era, for progressives, is a series of half loaves. But after all the defeats over the previous 30 years, aren’t those achievements something to celebrate?

Yes, Paul, they are.  However, there are still many of us who would rather aim higher.


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