Krugman’s blog, 11/26 and 11/27/15

November 28, 2015

There was one post on Thanksgiving and one yesterday.  Turkey Day’s post was “A Very Trump Thanksgiving:”


I awakened, long before dawn, to the sound of helicopters patrolling the Upper West Side. Many helicopters. I guess they’re protecting Snoopy. Then, over coffee, I read more Alan Abramowitz on how The Donald could be the nominee.

Indeed. All the rules have changed. Media mockery of Trump has no impact — perhaps because even the candidates considered respectable would have been considered out of bounds not that long ago. Consider the guy getting a lot of establishment puffery lately, supposedly making a comeback: he exemplifies the transition from a nation whose motto was “speak softly and carry a big stick” to one whose de facto motto is yell a lot and carry a strawberry smoothie.

Oh well. Time to get ready for the relatives.

Yesterday’s post was “Iceland, Ireland, and Devaluation Denial:”

International Monetary Fund

One of the big lessons of the euro crisis has been that Milton Friedman was right — not about monetarism, but about the case forflexible exchange rates. When big adjustments in a country’s wages and prices relative to trading partners are necessary, it’s much easier to achieve these adjustments via currency depreciation than via relative deflation — which is one main reason there have been such big costs to the euro.

But many economists remain deeply unwilling to accept this point. And so in Thordvaldur Gylfason’s otherwise useful survey of Iceland since the crisis, we get this:

In Ireland, the 2007 level of the purchasing power of per capita GNI was restored a year later than in Iceland, in 2014.

It is, therefore, not true that having its own currency (which lost a third of its value in real terms during the crash) saved Iceland from the sorry fate that Ireland would have to suffer because Ireland is anchored to the euro.

Ireland adjusted by other means. Iceland, had it used the euro, could have done the same. The Icelandic króna has lost 99.95% of its value vis-à-vis the Danish krone since 1939 when the two currencies were equivalent, convincing many local observers that Iceland is ripe for the adoption of the euro.

OK, the bit about depreciation since 1939 — 1939! — is a cheap shot. What about the Ireland comparison?

It’s true that Irish GDP per capita (in this case using GNI doesn’t make much difference) recovered to its pre-crisis level only a bit later than Iceland’s. But that’s not the only indicator, and it’s one that is arguably distorted by the nature of the Irish export sector, which held up fairly well and is highly capital-intensive (think pharmaceuticals) — that is, it contributes a lot to GDP but employs very few people.

If you look at employment instead, as in the chart, Iceland did far better than Ireland; and Icelandic unemployment similarly shows a much more favorable picture. Less formally, everyone I know who tracked both countries has the sense that the human toll in Iceland was much less than it was in Ireland.

Oh, and if you remember, everyone expected the Icelandic crisis to be much worse, given the incredible scale of the banking overreach — early on, comparisons between the two in Ireland were regarded as black humor, not something anyone expected to be meaningful.

I guess I understand the urge to make excuses for the single currency. But the evidence really does suggest that there are important advantages to keeping your own currency.

Krugman’s blog, 11/25/15

November 26, 2015

There was one post yesterday, “It’s A Conspiracy!”:

Greg Sargent has lately been driving home the point that Donald Trump just isn’t vulnerable to typical establishment attacks — at least in the Republican primary. (The general election might be different.) Catch him making an utterly false assertion, and his supporters just see it as the liberal media conspiring against him. It’s driving the establishment Republicans wild.

But really, why should they be shocked? Think about what the establishment has to say on other issues. The chairman of the House science committee says that global warming is a fraud, perpetrated by a vast conspiracy at the NOAA, which is presumably part of a global scientific conspiracy. When the administration reported large numbers of people signing up for Obamacare, leading Republican Senators accused it of cooking the books — and I’m unaware of any apology or even acknowledgement that they were wrong. Rush Limbaugh claimed that one of the Batman films was an anti-Romney conspiracy. And on and on.

So how are base voters supposed to know that Trump’s claims that the media suppressed films of Muslims cheering on 9/11 mark him as crazy, while all the other conspiracy theories on the right are OK? I guess someone could try to put out a cheat sheet listing acceptable and unacceptable tin-hat views; but Trump would just call that part of the conspiracy, and a lot of people would believe him.

Sorry, guys, you created this monster, and now he’s coming for you.

Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Dowd, Cohen and Kristof

November 26, 2015

Oh, FFS, MoDo has called upon her Republican brother Kevin to irritate us on Thanksgiving.  In “King Kevin Versus Queen Cersei” she says we should let the cacophonous feasting, with right wings of the turkey and left, begin!  Oddly enough, no one is allowed to comment on Kevin’s delusional ravings, probably to spare his tender teaparty fee-fees.  Mr. Cohen ponders “World War III” and moans that sometimes, as Syria shows, little things get bigger, people lose patience, there’s a spark and you get a big mess.  And again, no comments are allowed, probably to spare his tender, hand-wringing fee-fees.  Mr. Kristof, in “Donald Trump, Meet a Syrian Refugee Named Heba,” says a young woman who dreams of being an artist is still afraid after escaping her ISIS-controlled homeland — because she fears she will be sent back.  Hmmm…  you can comment on Mr. Kristof’s offering.  And people have commented in fierce opposition to allowing Syrian refugees into the country.  Apparently Mr. Kristof is made of sterner stuff than MoDo or Mr. Cohen.  Here, FSM help us, is MoDo/Kevin:

The intense interest in the thrill-a-minute, through-the-looking-glass 2016 race, fueled by anger at maladjusted Washington and anxiety after the Paris attacks, has spawned predictions that Thanksgiving political debates will be noisier and nastier than ever. Plenty of turkeys with a bone to pick and plenty of dressing down to go with the dressing. The Democratic National Committee actually issued talking points for the “lively” conversations with Republican uncles, aunts and brothers. Clearly, the people at the D.N.C. don’t have any Republican relatives. It’s never a parley. It’s a lecture. So I decided to let my Republican brother offer his red-state soliloquy now, hoping he’d let me eat my white meat in peace. He-e-e-ere’s Kevin:

While liberals and the mainstream media may regard the myriad Republican presidential candidates as a “house of crazies,” I see an embarrassment of riches. It is the ultimate irony that the Republican field blows the Democrats away on one of their favorite topics — diversity.

Here’s how I see the Republican contest and the Democratic coronation:

Donald Trump: With all his bombast and incivility, Trump has joyfully debunked political correctness for the complete fraud that it is. With his talent for making debate ratings soar, he has allowed all the other candidates to be seen and heard at celestial levels unreachable without him. He has touched a nerve because people are fed up with liberal groups being offended at every slight, real or imagined. (I can assure you none of these people were taught by Jesuits.) Three Ivy League schools are currently under siege, with students at Princeton demanding the removal of Woodrow Wilson’s name from a building. Washington and Jefferson are up next as former slave owners, leaving Al Sharpton as the default “father of our country.” We are tired of apologies for America’s exceptionalism.

Ben Carson: Not since Eisenhower has a complete novice politician been so legitimate a contender. Can he avoid the traps set for him by the media? He presents intriguing possibilities as part of the ticket, forcing African-Americans to choose between him and the wife of the man Toni Morrison called our “first black president.”

Marco Rubio: Young, whip smart and self-assured, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of foreign affairs and is a stunning contrast to Hillary Clinton both in generation and vision. Wait until he starts delivering his speeches in Spanish.

Ted Cruz: The Hispanic heir apparent to Barry Goldwater had the best moment in the third debate, calling out an obscure cable TV host looking for his 10 minutes of fame.

Jeb Bush: I like the Bushes, all of them. Jeb would have been the perfect Republican candidate from 1988 to 2000. In this age of instant gratification, his wonkish grasp of policy does not move the needle. Too bad.

Chris Christie: Trump with better manners. A certain pick for attorney general if this gig does not work out.

Contrast our informed candidates with the Democratic lineup of Queen Cersei, the socialist Doc Brown from “Back to the Future” and the lead singer of O’Malley’s March. I keep waiting for Martin O’Malley during debates to whip out his guitar for a few Irish songs. It would be more entertaining.

Clinton: She’s seeking the highest office in the land even though 60 percent of the country does not trust her and her emails are currently under F.B.I. review for potential national security breaches.

Bernie Sanders: His proposals for free health care, free college and expanded Social Security have a price tag of $18 trillion with no way to pay for it. Not even a candidate for budget director.

O’Malley: Does anyone know his reason for running?

The next president will have to deal with a severely weakened hand, at home and abroad. The bill for “leading from behind” has come due. After the Radical Islam (dare I say thy name?) attack on France, the president who called ISIS “contained” was left to issue his familiar disclaimer that Islam is a religion of peace. In dealing with foes, Clinton, in a 2014 speech at Georgetown University, called for “trying to understand, and insofar as is psychologically possible, empathize with their perspective.” Note to Hillary: Any enemy with beheading as a menu item does not deserve empathy.

A peeved President Obama lashed out at Republicans for daring to pass a bill asking for a more robust screening process for the Syrian refugees. His adviser, Ben Rhodes — the political hack behind the deceitful Benghazi talking points — assured us that our screening was airtight even as 47 Democrats voted for the bill. The president has been forced to face the inconvenient truth that others will lead the world in this battle while he continues his lonely quest against the world’s “greatest threat”: climate change.

Our enemies do not fear us, and authority at home is being questioned by a disgraceful campaign since Ferguson to undermine the police. I am the son of a policeman, and a police officer is killed in the line of duty every 60 hours. The thin blue line is the only thing that separates our society from anarchy. There will be awful shootings by police officers like the one in Chicago, but these are exceptions. My dad told me that any job where you can legally carry a gun will occasionally draw the wrong type of person. Police officers certainly do not deserve to see the media turning criminals into celebrated victims. The next time you see a police officer, say thank you.

So, ask yourself three questions: Do you want a president who refuses to name the enemy? Who do you want to appoint the next three Supreme Court justices? And who will protect the homeland and honor the Constitution? Then pray that you got it right.

Happy Thanksgiving.


In case you want to see what a delusional old Republican looks like, MoDo supplied a picture of Kevin:

That’s some comb-over, or possibly a really, really bad rug.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

“Mommy, please tell me again, how did World War I begin?”

“Sweetheart, I already told you, that was long ago. A century is a very long time.”

“But, Mommy, please.”

“Well, it’s complicated. Do you really, really want to know?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“It’s a sad story. The world was organized in one way, and that way collapsed, and in the process millions of people were killed.”

“Wow. How was it organized before?”

“There were things called empires. They controlled vast territories full of different peoples, and some of these peoples wanted to rule themselves rather than be governed by a faraway emperor.”


“The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of them. It had lots of grand palaces in its capital, Vienna, where people danced at fancy balls. It governed parts of a poor corner of Europe called the Balkans where its rule was disliked. One day in 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne and his wife were assassinated in a Balkan city called Sarajevo by a young man, a Bosnian Serb, who wanted the freedom of the south Slavs from imperial rule.”

“That’s sad, Mommy. Guess the music stopped. But so what?”

“The empire got really angry. It told Serbia to do a bunch of things or face war. The ruler in Vienna was confident because he had a close friend, a rising power called Germany. Serbia also had a good buddy, a country called Russia, which is big. Anyway, Serbia kind of dithered around, like you with homework, so Austria-Hungary went to war against it.”

“And then?”

“Then Germany declared war on Russia, whose friend was France, which didn’t like Germany for various reasons. Soon Germany attacked France through Belgium. That made Britain cross. It went to war against Germany. Another empire — a sickly one — called the Ottoman Empire, eventually joined the German and Austro-Hungarian side. Later the United States, a rising power, came in on the British and French team. After a few years, more than 16 million people were dead. The Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, German and Russian empires had collapsed.”

“All because a couple was killed? Mom, that’s weird.”

“Sometimes little things get bigger, people lose patience and perspective, there’s a spark and you get a big mess.”

“Mom, it couldn’t happen again, right?’


“Are there any empires left today?”

“Some people call America an empire even if it doesn’t have an emperor. It is the most powerful country on earth, with soldiers all around the world and different peoples that rely on it for direction and protection. But America’s getting weaker.”

“So, Mommy, is it kind of like what you said about the world being organized one way, and then being organized in another way, and lots of people dying in the process?”

“Not exactly, sweetheart. Dying where?”

“In Syria. Mom, what’s Syria?”

“It’s a small country with different peoples and religions that came into being when the Ottoman Empire got so sickly it collapsed.”

“Why are people fighting there?”

“It’s complicated. Do you really, really want to know?”

“Yes, Mommy.”

“Well, there was this brutal, remote tyrant behaving like an emperor and some of the peoples in Syria rose up against him. The tyrant started shooting them. America and Britain and France, among other countries, didn’t like that, and they said they’d kind of support the rebels, but didn’t really.”


“Because, like I said, America is sickly. It’s getting weaker.”

“Okay. Then what?”

“The tyrant had a big friend called Russia. He had another quite big friend called Iran. They both really did support him.”

“So he won?”

“Not quite. Many of the people who wanted to get rid of the tyrant were Sunni Muslims. They had the backing of Saudi Arabia, which is Sunni Central and hates Iran and has supported Sunni fanatics. Turkey, which was the successor to the Ottoman Empire and hates the Syrian tyrant, also got on the rebel team. But Turkey hates another people in Syria called the Kurds even more than the tyrant — so much it’s been ready in a sneaky way to help one group of Sunni crazies who slit throats, kill Kurds and shoot people in Western cities.”

“Mom, I’m confused.”

“Syria has broken up, like the Ottoman Empire. Russia is bombing some enemies of the Syrian tyrant. America is bombing the throat-slitters. So is France. Turkey shot down a Russian plane. Russia is angry. The Kurds want the state they didn’t get 100 years ago. Saudi Arabia is fighting a region-wide war against Iran. That war is most intense in Syria, where hundreds of thousands are dead.”

“All because some folks wanted to get rid of a bully?”

“Sometimes little things get bigger, there’s a spark and it’s a big mess.”

“Mom, what would World War III be like?”

“Don’t worry, darling, everything is different now.”


“Totally. We have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Happy Thanksgiving, my love.”

And now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Lesbos, Greece:

Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Donald Trump says that he would send them back.

Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify American politicians?

Meet Heba, a frightened, desperate 20-year-old woman who dreams of being an artist and has just made a perilous escape from territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria.

She was detained two months ago with her sister by Islamic State enforcers because her sister’s baby girl had too short a skirt — even though the baby was just 3 months old.

“That was crazy,” Heba said, shaking her head. “This was an infant!”

Heba says she and her sister argued that infant girls should have a little leeway in showing skin, and eventually the family was let off with a warning.

But Heba, strong-willed and self-confident, perhaps had been too outspoken or too sarcastic, and the police then cast a critical eye on her clothing. She was covering even her hands and face, but the authorities complained that her abaya cloak wasn’t loose enough to turn her into a black puff that concealed her form. The police detained her for hours until her family bailed her out by paying a $10 fine.

Heba was lucky, for other women have been flogged for violating clothing rules. Her sister saw a woman stoned to death after being accused of adultery.

“If I were wearing this,” Heba told me, pointing down at the tight jeans she was wearing as we spoke, “my head would come off.” She offered a hollow laugh.

I spoke to her after she left her mother and siblings behind in Syria (her father died years ago of natural causes) and fled with a handful of relatives on a perilous journey to Turkey, then on a dangerously overcrowded boat to this Greek island. I took Heba and her relatives to a dinner of pizza — Western food is banned by the Islamic State — and as we walked to the pizzeria she made a game of pointing out all the passers-by who would be decapitated by ISIS for improper dress, consorting with the opposite sex or sundry other offenses.

“It’s a million percent difference,” she exulted of life in the West. “Once you leave that area, you feel so good. Your whole body relaxes.”

Americans are understandably afraid of terrorism after the Paris attacks, and that fear is channeled at Syrian refugees. So pandering politiciansportray the refugees as menaces whom the vetting process is unable to screen out, and Americans by nearly two to one oppose President Obama’s plan to admit 10,000 Syrians over a year.

In fact, despite the impressions left by American politicians and by the Islamic State, Syrians are in general more educated and middle class than many other people in the region, and the women more empowered. Heba’s aspirations to be an artist aren’t unusual.

Security concerns are legitimate, but the refugee screening is a rigorous two-year process. It would be far simpler for the Islamic State to infiltrate the U.S. by dispatching European passport holders (like those who carried out the Paris attacks) on tourist visas, or just use supporters who are already American citizens.

The anti-refugee legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives would effectively end the intake even of Christians and Yazidis who have been particularly targeted by the extremists.

In person, Syrian refugees are less scary than scared. Heba wouldn’t allow me to use her last name or publish her photo for fear of getting her family in trouble, and she cannot contact her mother for the same reason. (I’m not mentioning the town she lived in because she’s terrified that the Islamic State might try to identify and punish her family for her escape and for her candor to a Western journalist.)

Really, Ben Carson, you want to compare this freedom-loving woman to a rabid dog?

Donald Trump, when you said of Syrian refugees, “If I win, they’re going back,” do you really intend to deport Heba back to the Islamic State to be flogged or decapitated?

Heba is fed up with violence and extremism — but now in the West she encounters a new kind of political extremism that targets refugees like her. These Syrian refugees find themselves accused of potentially being the terrorists they flee.

“We have no connection to terrorism,” she told me, mystified that anyone could fear her. “We’re running away from all that.”

Heba showed me her abaya, which she keeps in her backpack. She says she never wants to wear it again, so I asked why she doesn’t discard it.

“I’m scared,” she admitted. “If they send us back, I will need it.”

Ben Carson and Donald Trump, Heba is neither a rabid dog nor a crazed terrorist, but a desperate young woman whose life is on the line. Let’s drop the fearmongering and let Heba cast away that abaya forever.

Friedman and Bruni

November 25, 2015

Tommy has been given a tour and chatted with someone in Riyadh.  This led to him producing his “Letter From Saudi Arabia,” in which he breathlessly tells us that a stirring for change was evident during a visit to the kingdom and an evening with the 30-year-old deputy crown prince.  Right…  In the comments, a NYT picked comment no less, “wenzel dehn” from Ohio had this to say:  “Women segregated at a public talk? Wearing all black? Yeah, they are all about change.  Still flogging people for ideas? Yeah, they are all about change.  Still blaming the behavior of Shia Muslims as the reason Sunni Muslims have taken the Wahabi extremist position they do, and not one hint that the money and guidance and soldiers are coming from with the Saudi kingdom? Yeah, they are all about change.  They have every right to have a 12th century barbaric justice system, every right to treat women and others as less than themselves, just as we have the right to turn off the tap to cheap weapons which will only end up being used against us when they end up in the hands of Daesh.”  I’ve got my fingers crossed that Charlie Pierce at Esquire addresses this, or Matt Taibbi…  Mr. Bruni, in “The Gift of Reading,” says books are fundamental engines of advancement, illumination, wonder. Let’s get them in more children’s hands.  Here’s TMOW:

Saudi Arabia is a country that is easier to write about from afar, where you can just tee off on the place as a source of the most austere, antipluralistic version of Islam — the most extreme versions of which have been embraced by the Islamic State, or ISIS. What messes me up is when I go there and meet people I really like and I see intriguing countertrends.

Last week I came here looking for clues about the roots of ISIS, which has drawn some 1,000 Saudi youth to its ranks. I won’t pretend to have penetrated the mosques of bearded young men, steeped in Salafist/Wahhabi Islam, who don’t speak English and whence ISIS draws recruits. I know, though, that the conservative clergy is still part of the ruling bargain here — some of the most popular Twitter voices are religious firebrands — and those religious leaders still run the justice system and sentence liberal bloggers to flogging, and they’re still in denial about how frustrated the world is with the ideology they’ve exported.

But I also ran into something I didn’t know: Something is stirring in this society. This is not your grandfather’s Saudi Arabia. “Actually, it’s not even my father’s Saudi Arabia anymore — it is not even my generation’s Saudi Arabia anymore,” the country’s 52-year-old foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said to me.

For instance, I was hosted by the King Salman Youth Center, an impressive education foundation that, among other things, has been translating Khan Academy videos into Arabic. It invited me to give a lecture on how big technological forces are affecting the workplace. I didn’t know what to expect, but more than 500 people showed up, filling the hall, roughly half of them women who sat in their own sections garbed in traditional black robes. There was blowback on Twitter as to why a columnist who’s been critical of Saudi Arabia’s export of Salafist ideology should be given any platform. But the reception to my talk (I was not paid) was warm, and the questions from the audience were probing and insightful about how to prepare their kids for the 21st century.

It appears that conservatives here have a lot more competition now for the future identity of this country, thanks to several converging trends. First, most of Saudi Arabia is younger than 30. Second, a decade ago, King Abdullah said he’d pay the cost for any Saudi who wanted to study abroad. That’s resulted in 200,000 Saudis studying overseas today (including 100,000 in America), and now 30,000 a year are coming back with Western degrees and joining the labor force. You now see women in offices everywhere, and several senior officials whispered to me how often the same conservatives who decry women in the workplace quietly lobby them to get their daughters into good schools or jobs.

Finally, just as this youth bulge exploded here, so did Twitter and YouTube — a godsend for a closed society. Young Saudis are using Twitter to talk back to the government and to converse with one another on the issues of the day, producing more than 50 million tweets per month.

What’s been missing was a leadership ready to channel this energy into reform. Enter the new King Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman, the 30-year-old deputy crown prince, who, along with the moderate crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef, has embarked on a mission to transform how Saudi Arabia is governed.

I spent an evening with Mohammed bin Salman at his office, and he wore me out. With staccato energy bursts, he laid out in detail his plans. His main projects are an online government dashboard that will transparently display the goals of each ministry, with monthly K.P.I.s — key performance indicators — for which each minister will be held accountable. His idea is to get the whole country engaged in government performance. Ministers tell you: Since Mohammed arrived, big decisions that took two years to make now happen in two weeks.

“The key challenges are our overdependence on oil and the way we prepare and spend our budgets,” Mohammed explained. His plan is to reduce subsidies to wealthy Saudis, who won’t get cheap gas, electricity or water anymore, possibly establish a value-added tax and sin taxes on cigarettes and sugary drinks, and both privatize and tax mines and undeveloped lands in ways that can unlock billions — so even if oil falls to $30 a barrel, Riyadh will have enough revenues to keep building the country without exhausting its savings. He’s also creating incentives for Saudis to leave government and join the private sector.

“Seventy percent of Saudis are under age 30, and their perspective is different from the other 30 percent,” said Mohammed. “I am working to create for them the country they want to be living in in the future.”

Is this a mirage or the oasis? I don’t know. Will it produce a more open Saudi Arabia or a more efficient conservative Saudi Arabia? I don’t know. It definitely bears watching, though. “ “I’ve never been more optimistic,” Mohammed Abdullah Aljadaan, chairman of the Saudi Capital Market Authority, told me. “We have a pulse that we’ve never seen before, and we have a [role] model in government we thought we’d never see.”

Bottom line: There are still dark corners here exporting intolerant ideas. But they seem to now have real competition from both the grass roots and a leadership looking to build its legitimacy around performance, not just piety or family name. As one Saudi educator said to me, “There is still resistance to change,” but there is now much more “resistance to the resistance.”

Mohammed has had the important backing of his father, King Salman, who has replaced both the key health and housing ministers with nonroyal business executives as part of a broader shift to professionalize the government and stimulate the private sector to take a bigger role in the economy. The new health minister was the most important C.E.O. in the country, Khalid al-Falih, who was running the national oil company, Aramco.

Streamlining government, Mohammed said, is vital to “help us fight corruption,” which “is one of our main challenges.” Moreover, only by phasing out subsidies and raising domestic energy prices, he added, can Saudi Arabia one day install “nuclear power generation or solar power generation” and make them competitive in the local market. That is badly needed so that more Saudi oil can be exported rather than consumed at home, he said.

But this will all be tricky. Saudi workers pay no income tax. “Our society does not accept taxes; [citizens] are not used to them,” said Mohammed. So the fact that the government may be increasing taxes in some way, shape or form could have political ramifications: Will the leaders hear declarations of “no taxation without representation”?

How far things will go in that direction — Saudi Arabia already has municipal elections where women can run and vote — is unclear. But the new government does seem to intuit that to the extent that its welfare state has to be shrunk, because of the falling price of oil, its performance and responsiveness have to rise.

“A government that is not a part of the society and not representing them, it is impossible that it will remain,” said Mohammed. “We saw that in the Arab Spring. The governments that survived are only those that are connected to their people. People misunderstand our monarchy. It is not like Europe. It is a tribal form of monarchy, with many tribes and subtribes and regions connecting to the top.” Their wishes and interests have to be taken into account. “The king cannot just wake up and decide to do something.”

There were other little things that caught my eye on this visit — like the Western symphony orchestra playing on Saudi state-run television one afternoon and the collection of contemporary paintings by Saudi artists, including one of a Saudi woman by a Saudi woman, on display in the Ministry of Information.

As for ISIS, Mohammed disputed that it is a product of Saudi religious thinking, arguing that it was in fact a counterreaction to the brutalization of Iraqi Sunnis by the Iranian-directed Shiite-led government in Baghdad of Nouri al-Maliki and to the crushing of Syrian Sunnis by the Iranian-backed government in Damascus. “There was no [ISIS] before America departed from Iraq. And then America leaves and Iran enters, and then ISIS appears,” he said.

He complained that at a time when ISIS is blowing up mosques in Saudi Arabia in an effort to destabilize the regime, the world is accusing Saudi Arabia of inspiring ISIS: “The [ISIS] terrorists are telling me that I am not a Muslim. And the world is telling me I am a terrorist.”

This is the legacy, though, of decades of one part of the Saudi government and society promoting Salafist Islam and the other part working with the West to curb jihadists. As I said, the world has been frustrated with that dichotomy.

Mohammed argued that the ISIS narrative is beamed directly to Saudi youth via Twitter, and that the message is: “The West is trying to enforce its agenda on you — and the Saudi government is helping them — and Iran is trying to colonize the Arab world. So we — ISIS — are defending Islam.”

He added: “We don’t blame the West for misreading us. It is partly our fault. We don’t explain our situation. The world is changing rapidly, and we need to reprioritize to be with the world. Today the world is different. You cannot be isolated from the world. The world must know what is going on in your neighborhood, and we must know what is going on in the world — [it’s] a global village.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led Gulf coalition has been fighting a coalition of Houthi militants and rebels loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who are backed by Iran. The rebels pushed the official Yemeni government out of the capital, Sana, in March and the Saudi coalition is trying to restore it to power. So far, the U.N. reports, some 5,700 people have been killed, many of them civilians. Saudi officials made clear to me that they are ready for a negotiated solution, and don’t want to be stuck in a quagmire there, but that the Houthis will get serious only if they keep losing ground, as they have been.

“The other side has trouble reaching a political consensus,” said Mohammed, who is also defense minister. “But whenever they sustain loses on the ground and international pressure, they get serious [about negotiating]. We are trying to bring this to an end.”

Like just about every official I spoke with on this trip to the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed voiced a desire for America not to abandon the region. “There are times when there is a leader and not a leader [in the world], and when there are no leaders, chaos will ensue.”

Sure, he didn’t meet anyone from a radical mosque, sure the women are segregated (in their black robes), sure radical clerics control the legal system and impose 12th Century punishments, and Tommy’s sure the winds of change are blowing…  Cripes.  Here’s Mr. Bruni:

The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life —may be an endless game of catch-up.

That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.

I shine a light on Reading Is Fundamental, or R.I.F., for several reasons.

We’re in the midst of giving thanks, and this group deserves plenty. It has distributed more than 410 million books to more than 40 million American children.

We’re on the cusp of the year-end holiday season, during which many people turn their attention to charity, making the most generous of their yearly donations. I urge everyone to think about literacy, books, early childhood education and organizations, like R.I.F., that support them.

And we’re a texting, tweeting, distracted country in which too many children don’t read at grade level, too many forces conspire against any improvement in that and too heavy a price is paid.

R.I.F. just began its 50th year of work — it was born in November 1966 — and is marking that milestone with some new approaches and a fresh determination to spread its message despite budget challenges. With the clampdown on federal spending over recent years, it lost about $24 million in annual funding that it had come to rely on. That represented more than two-thirds of its budget, which now leans harder on private contributions.

Consequently, R.I.F. gives away fewer books in a given year than it once did. It was down to 1.8 million last year from a high of about 17 million more than a decade ago.

But R.I.F. has signed on as a partner with ustyme — a digital platform that enables multiple users to read or play video games together — to make sure that underprivileged children in particular take advantage of ustyme’s Billion e-Book Gift, which will provide access to a digital library of 50 previously selected children’s titles, many in Spanish as well as English. Those titles can be downloaded by visiting, starting Dec. 1.

The ebook reflects R.I.F.’s determination to get kids to read in whatever manner best accomplishes that. The goal is to develop a muscle, nurture a habit, maybe even spark a passion. You never know where a little reading might lead.

Ellen Halliday, the R.I.F. coordinator for the Brooklyn Public Library, recalled a mother who worried that her 8-year-old son was wasting his time with easy, breezy, frivolous books.

“Then one day,” Halliday told me, “when he was about 9 or 10, he said to me, ‘You know, I got this book, and this author — I can really see what he’s talking about when he talks about the shire or the hobbit. I think this Tolkien guy is an excellent author.’”

R.I.F. was the brainchild of Margaret McNamara, whose experience as a teacher convinced her that for many poor kids, one of the main barriers to proficient reading was simply access to books.

The group became known for its Bookmobiles, trucks that pulled up to schoolhouses to dispense books the way a Good Humor or Mister Softee truck dispenses ice cream — only for free.

It’s vital nourishment. Research suggests that during their earliest years, kids from disadvantaged homes don’t hear as robust a variety of words as kids from privileged ones, and that’s the prelude to a series of other gaps with bearing on their success in school and beyond.

Early reading is one of the remedies.

“Reading follows an upward spiral,” said Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the author of “Raising Kids Who Read,” which was published earlier this year.

“Kids who read more get better at reading, and because they are better at reading, it’s easier and more pleasurable so they read still more,” he said. “And kids who read well don’t just do better in English class — it helps them in math, science and every other class, too.”

I’d go even further. Reading tugs them outside of themselves, connecting them to a wider world and filling it with wonder. It’s more than fundamental. It’s transformative.


Krugman’s blog, 11/23/15

November 24, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Shorts Subject:”

Last night I was invited to a screening of The Big Short, which I thought was terrific; who knew that CDOs and credit default swaps could be made into an edge-of-your-seat narrative (with great acting)?

But there was one shortcut the narrative took, which was understandable and possibly necessary, but still worth noting.

In the film, various eccentrics and oddballs make the discovery that subprime-backed securities are garbage, which is pretty much what happened; but this is wrapped together with their realization that there was a massive housing bubble, which is presented as equally contrary to anything anyone respectable was saying. And that’s not quite right.

It’s true that Greenspan and others were busy denying the very possibility of a housing bubble. And it’s also true that anyone suggesting that such a bubble existed was attacked furiously — “You’re only saying that because you hate Bush!” Still, there were a number of economic analysts making the case for a massive bubble. Here’s Dean Baker in 2002. Bill McBride (Calculated Risk) was on the case early and very effectively. I keyed off Baker and McBride, arguing for a bubble in 2004 and making my big statement about the analytics in 2005, that is, if anything a bit earlier than most of the events in the film. I’m still fairly proud of that piece, by the way, because I think I got it very right by emphasizing the importance of breaking apart regional trends.

So the bubble itself was something number crunchers could see without delving into the details of MBS, traveling around Florida, or any of the other drama shown in the film. In fact, I’d say that the housing bubble of the mid-2000s was the most obvious thing I’ve ever seen, and that the refusal of so many people to acknowledge the possibility was a dramatic illustration of motivated reasoning at work.

The financial superstructure built on the bubble was something else; I was clueless about that, and didn’t see the financial crisis coming at all.

Yesterday’s second post was “Terror Politics:”

Conventional wisdom on the politics of terror seems to be faring just as badly as conventional wisdom on the politics of everything. Donald Trump went up, not down, in the polls after Paris — Republican voters somehow didn’t decide to rally around “serious” candidates. And as Greg Sargent notes, polls suggest that the public trusts Hillary Clinton as much if not more than Republicans to fight terror.

May I suggest that these are related?

After all, where did the notion that Republicans are effective on terror come from? Mainly from a rally-around-the-flag effect after 9/11. But if you think about it, Bush became America’s champion against terror because, um, the nation suffered from a big terrorist attack on his watch. It never made much sense.

What Bush did do was talk tough, boasting that he would get Osama bin Laden dead or alive. But, you know, he didn’t. And guess who did?

So people who trust Republicans on terror — which presumably includes the GOP base — are going to be the kind of people who value big talk and bluster over actual evidence of effectiveness. Why on earth would you expect such people to turn against Trump after an attack?

Blow and Brooks

November 24, 2015

Mr. Blow has a question in “A Year Without Tamir:”  What has America become if we must have a sisterhood of mourning?  Bobo has extruded an extraordinary turd called “Tales of the Super Survivors” in which he gurgles that many people bounce back from traumatic events to be even stronger than before, and that there are reasons.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Conservatives are always looking for ways to sell war to the general public, but this pep talk borders on the bizarre. To say that we emerge from attacks better than before makes it sound as though we’re embarking on a kind of cleansing ritual that weeds out the weak. We clean up the mess with parables and bandages, and soldier on.  We should recall that more U.S. soldiers died from suicide in the waning years of the Bush wars than from combat, and the toll continues to mount. Such wars began with a flagrant exercise of storytelling infused with moral purpose, but it’s the moral hazards that ultimately left their mark.”  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Cleveland:

On a cold, dreary Sunday morning, grayness envelops the city. Tiny pellets of snow and ice fall like crumbs of Styrofoam.

I enter through the back of Mt. Zion Congregational Church in East Cleveland, and there she sits, wearing combat boots and jeans, long braids framing her face. A pin commemorating her dead son is attached to her jacket. This is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by a police officer last year while playing with a toy gun in a park.

Samaria sits with a friend — another mother who lost a child following an interaction with the police — while her son, Tavon, towers over her like a sentinel. She had agreed to allow me to accompany her this somber day, the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.

I ask her how she’s holding up. “I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed,” she says, “and I just want to go to bed.”

The church service seems to cheer her up a bit, as she claps and nods and rocks her body to the songs and the message. That is, until the pastor asks the mothers who have lost children to come to the altar. Nearly 10 of them stand before it, all black. Then he invites the congregation to come forward, to lay hands on them, to “touch and agree” as they pray.

The tears begin to flow. I pass Samaria a tissue as she takes her seat.

This emotional vacillation is quite familiar to me now, this sadness periodically breaking the surface before submerging again.

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, I have interviewed many — too many! — of these mothers with holes in their hearts. There is an eerie sameness to the arc and articulation of their sorrow.

On top of this, these mothers are forced to share their children with the world, to suppress some of their own grief so that they can be a composed instrument to serve a message. There is also the disconcerting feeling of being famous because of another’s infamy, of being exalted for extreme loss, of having your voice amplified while your personal space feels invaded.

The impulse of people wanting to express their sympathy is understandable, but constant reminders of these mothers’ losses, particularly from strangers, can sometimes make them feel as if they’re drowning under continuously crashing waves.

I would meet more of these mothers through the course of this day.

There was Deanna Joseph, who said that last year her 14-year-old son, Andrew, was wrongfully arrested at the Florida State Fair, illegally transported — “kidnapped” was the word she used — then released in a strange area with only directions for how to walk back to the fair. Deanna said he was not allowed to call a parent to come get him. Andrew was killed when he was struck trying to cross Interstate 4.

According to Deanna, no one was charged in Andrew’s death.

There was Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones of Detroit, who was killed in 2010 by a single gunshot as she slept at home on a sofa. Officers had targeted the home for an arrest by mistake. With an A&E crew filming outside, they launched a flash-bang grenade into the house, and Aiyana’s blanket caught fire. Seconds after the entering the home, Officer Joseph Weekley fired the fatal shot. As The Guardian put it, “It went straight through the child’s head.”

After juries twice failed to reach a verdict in the case, criminal charges against Weekley were dropped.

Meanwhile, even after a year, the officers involved in Tamir’s killing havenot been charged.

These women have become a sort of sisterhood of traveling pain. They support each other and commiserate in their shared grief, a grief that only they can truly know. But as a country we must ask ourselves if we can call this a decent society if such a morbid sorority is necessary.

Still, of all the cases that shake my soul, Tamir’s case shakes it the most. It is an American tragedy of epic proportions.

After church, we travel to the gazebo near the Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir was gunned down. Samaria shows me how far it was from her front door, “about 100 yards.” She shows me the path that the police cruiser took when approaching Tamir across the grassy park, steering clear of a tree and a swing set — “like the Dukes of Hazzard,” as she puts it — not using the paved parking lot that we used.

Samaria freely discusses her own troubled past. She had a drug-addicted mother who killed a man with whom she was in an abusive relationship. Samaria had to testify at the trial. She was 12. (Her mother served 15 years in the penitentiary for manslaughter, Samaria says.) From 12 on, Samaria bounced around among caregivers, some of whom didn’t seem to know what the term meant. She discusses her strained relationship with her father and her own run-ins with the law. Through it all, she endured. She points to a tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Only the Strong Survive.”

It was because of her own troubled past, she says, that she tried desperately to protect her own children from trouble.

But the woman who experienced so much trauma at 12 couldn’t protect her son from an even worse fate at 12.

She recounted the events of the fateful day Tamir was shot. Two teenage boys she didn’t recognize ran from the rec center to her house to tell her that Tamir had been shot in the park. She says that she was initially in denial. “I was like, ‘no, my kids are at the park playing.’” But Tavon didn’t share her denial. He bolted from the house, racing to the park.

Samaria says that she put on her shoes and jacket and walked over to the park only to find out that the boys had told the truth. She arrived on the scene at the same time as the ambulance. “At that point, I went into shock, because at that point I’m trying to figure out: ‘What is going on? What happened? What did he do?’ In my head it’s like: ‘What did he do bad enough for you guys to shoot him?’”

She also realized that Tavon and her daughter Tajai, both of whom had raced to Tamir’s aid, had been detained by the police.

Then she had to make a nearly impossible decision: stay with the two children who had been detained, or travel to the hospital with the child who had a bullet in his belly. She went to the hospital, where Tamir died of his wound the next day.

Soon the vigil for Tamir begins in the park. I stand near the family. I try to imagine what it must be like to lose a child in that way, but I shake the thought loose before it sinks in. It’s too much to contemplate. Yet, as I glance over at Samaria, I realize that the unfathomable is her everyday companion.

Now the world waits along with Samaria to see what, if anything, will be done to the officers who killed her son, both the one who fired the fatal shot and the one who drove the car.

As Samaria put it, “I just want them to tell me what happened.”

And now, God help us, comes Bobo who I’m sure never read Mr. Blow’s piece.  Otherwise he never could have created this appalling POS:

The age of terror is an age of shocks. Individuals, families and whole societies get torn apart by unexpected stabbings, shootings and bombings.

It’s horrible, of course, but over the past few years the findings of academic research into the effects of these traumas have shifted in a more positive direction. Human beings are more resilient than we’d earlier thought. Many people bounce back from hard knocks and experience surges of post-traumatic growth.

In the first place, post-traumatic stress disorder rates are lower than many of us imagine. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 13 percent of the first responders on 9/11 had symptoms that would qualify as a stress disorder. Only about 13 percent of the people who saw the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in person experienced PTSDin the next six months. The best general rule for all of society seems to be that at least 75 percent of the people who experience a life-threatening or violent event emerge without a stress disorder.

Even many of those who are unlucky enough to fall victim to the horrific pain of PTSD are able to recover and rebuild better lives. These are people you sometimes meet who have experienced the worst in life but still radiate love and joy. They get to live a second life and correct the mistakes they made before the earthquake shook everything loose.

As Philip A. Fisher, a University of Oregon psychology professor, noted in an email, the big background factor that nurtures resilience is unconditional love. The people who survive and rebound from trauma frequently had an early caregiver who pumped unshakable love into them, and that built a rock of inner security they could stand on for the rest of their lives.

There are some foreground factors, too, traits super survivors tend to have that enable them to come back stronger then ever. These people are often deluded in good ways about their own abilities, but completely realistic about their situations. That is to say, they have positive illusions about their own talents, and an optimist’s faith in their own abilities to control the future. But they have no illusions about the world around them. They accept what they have lost quickly. They see problems clearly. They work hard. Work is the reliable cure for sorrow.

Recovering from trauma is mainly an exercise in storytelling. As Richard Tedeschi, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has pointed out, trauma is a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life. The recurring patterns that make up life are disrupted. The sense of safety is lost. Having faced death, people in these circumstances are forced to confront the elemental questions of life.

But some people are able to write a new story. As Tedeschi writes, post-traumatic growth comes not from the event but from the struggle afterward to write a new story that imagines a life better than before. Researchers have found that people who thrive after a shock are able to tell clear, forward-looking stories about themselves, while those who don’t thrive get stuck ruminating darkly about the past.

Book 1 is life before the event. Book 2 is the event that shattered the old story. But Book 3 is reintegration, a reframing new story that incorporates what happened and then points to a more virtuous and meaningful life than the one before.

These are intensely moral narratives that describe a life of higher purpose. Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and concluded that those who could best survive the camps were those who could satisfy their hunger for lives of meaning. Even if they were suffering, they could direct their attention toward those they loved and those they would serve in their future lives.

Frankl, who went on to become a professor of neurology and psychiatry, cited Nietzsche’s dictum that he who has a why to live for can endure almost any how. The stories super survivors tell have two big themes: optimism and altruism.

It’s interesting that this age of terrorism calls forth certain practical skills — the ability to tell stories, the ability to philosophize and define a meaning to your life. Just as individuals need moral stories if they are going to recover, so probably do nations. France will most likely need a parable to make sense of what happened, just as the United States still has competing parables about the meaning of 9/11.

This is why foreign policies that pursue amoral realpolitik are always impractical. If a country can’t discern a moral purpose in its foreign policy, it will lack resilience. It will lack the capacity to bounce back from an attack. It will lack a satisfying narrative and lose the ability to thrive in terror’s wake.

The good news is there is no reason to be pessimistic during the war on terrorism. Individuals and societies are tough and resilient, and usually emerge from attacks better than before.

He should be horsewhipped in Macy’s window on Thanksgiving day.  By Santa…

Krugman’s blog, 11/21 and 11/22/15

November 23, 2015

There was one post on Saturday, and two yesterday.  Saturday’s post was “Are Banks Europe’s Problem?”:

For those of us who worried a lot about Japan in the late 1990s and now find the whole advanced world facing similar problems, deja vu comes so often that we get deja vu about getting deja vu. A case in point is the rise and fall of European bank-blaming — that is, the argument that the weakness of banks is what’s holding European recovery back.

At FtAlphaville, Matthew Klein looks at the evidence, and is surprised to find that there’s little support for the bad-banks-did-it story, even though everyone repeats it. But look back at my 1998 BPEA on Japan, which is more or less where I came in. Back then it was almost universally insisted that the failure of monetary base expansion to filter through into bank lending showed that a dysfunctional banking system was the core of Japan’s problem. But I argued (154-158) that the nonresponse of monetary aggregates was exactly what you should expect in a liquidity trap, and that there was little evidence (174-177) that banking problems were actually central to the economy’s weakness.

So, deja vu all over again, all over again.

Yesterday’s first post was “Thinking About the Trumpthinkable:”

I'm not a political scientist, man
I’m not a political scientist, man

Alan Abramowitz reads the latest WaPo poll and emails:

Read these results and tell me how Trump doesn’t win the Republican nomination? I’ve been very skeptical about this all along, but I’m starting to change my mind. I think there’s at least a pretty decent chance that Trump will be the nominee.

Here’s why I think Trump could very well end up as the nominee:

1. He’s way ahead of every other candidate now and has been in the lead or tied for the lead for a long time.

2. The only one even giving him any competition right now is Carson who is even less plausible and whose support is heavily concentrated among one (large) segment of the base—evangelicals.

3. Rubio, the great establishment hope now, is deep in third place, barely in double digits and nowhere close to Trump or Carson.

4. By far the most important thing GOP voters are looking for in a candidate is someone to “bring needed change to Washington.”

5. He is favored on almost every major issue by Republican voters including immigration and terrorism by wide margins. The current terrorism scare only helps him with Republicans. They want someone who will “bomb the shit” out of the Muslim terrorists.

6. There is clearly strong support among Republicans for deporting 11 million illegal immigrants. They don’t provide party breakdown here, but support for this is at about 40 percent among all voters so it’s got to be a lot higher than that, maybe 60 percent, among Republicans.

7. If none of the totally crazy things he’s said up until now have hurt him among Republican voters, why would any crazy things he says in the next few months hurt him?

8. He’s very strong in several of the early states right now including NH, NV and SC. And he could do very well on “Super Tuesday” with all those southern states voting. I can’t see anyone but Trump or Carson winning in Georgia right now, for example, most likely Trump.

9. And as for the idea of the GOP establishment ganging up on him and/or uniting behind another candidate like Rubio, that’s at least as likely to backfire as to work. And even if it works, what’s to stop Trump from then running as an independent?

Indeed. You have a party whose domestic policy agenda consists of shouting “death panels!”, whose foreign policy agenda consists of shouting “Benghazi!”, and which now expects its base to realize that Trump isn’t serious. Or to put it a bit differently, the definition of a GOP establishment candidate these days is someone who is in on the con, and knows that his colleagues have been talking nonsense. Primary voters are expected to respect that?

Yesterday’s second post was “VSPs and the Case of the Disappearing BPEA:”

Brad Delong has nice things to say about my old Brookings Papers on Economic Activity on the liquidity trap, and asks why central bankers still don’t seem to get some of the basic points I made way back then, especially about the desirability of a higher inflation target. I actually have a few thoughts, which are inevitably mostly — but not entirely! — self-serving.

First, most trivially but possibly significant, I suspect that fewer macroeconomists have actually read that paper than you might think. I still run into people who believe that the modern liquidity-trap literature started with Eggertsson and Woodford, which was written several years later, and that my piece must have been a commentary on theirs (which was very good!) And it’s been very clear that remarkably few people read what I had to say aboutfinancial intermediaries and monetary aggregates, even though that has turned out, I’d argue, to be a really important insight.

This comes, I think, from the kind of micro-tribalism that is surprisingly powerful in academic economics: I have never been part of the domestic-economy macroeconomic regular circuit, so some of them couldn’t believe that I could have something new to tell them (or were simply unaware that the paper even existed.)

After all, in the early stages of the crisis response you encountered lots of macroeconomists asserting that “nobody” had discussed fiscal policy in recent years, even though Obstfeld and Rogoff had done plenty in their big 1996 book; the point is that Obstfeld and Rogoff were in the international macro circuit, and domestic guys weren’t listening.

Oh, and by the time some of them may have gotten a clue that I wrote something they maybe should read, I was politically controversial, which shouldn’t matter but does. In effect, some people may have been unwilling to consider that I might have been right about macroeconomics because I had committed the unforgivable sin of being right about Iraq. (I told you this would be self-serving!)

Second, the whole story of our woeful crisis response has been that Very Serious People seize on orthodoxies that are grounded more in their gut feelings and the comfort that comes from repeating what everyone else says than in economic analysis. Central bankers are more given to analytical thinking than most, but it’s still a very brave official who disputes the orthodoxy of 2 percent, even though the original rationale for that target — it was supposed to make the zero lower bound no problem — has long since evaporated.

Finally, to be fair, there are arguments one can make that go beyond what I said in 1998. Some models of sticky prices suggest that inflation may have bigger costs than conventional models imply. I don’t find these models plausible, but it’s not all gut feelings here.

The bottom line, however, is that while you might think it obvious that a clearly relevant paper by a well-known guy with all the right credentials must be widely understood by people who matter, it ain’t necessarily so.

Blow and Krugman

November 23, 2015

In “Anti-Muslim Is Anti-American” Mr. Blow says demonizing a single religion is a slippery slope, with the danger of hateful acts getting progressively worse.  Oh, they will, Charles, they will…  Prof. Krugman, in “Health Reform Lives!”, says there has been some negative news lately about Obamacare, but it is still a big success story.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There seems to be no bottom to the cesspool of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from Republican candidates.

The tone of anti-Muslim musings post-Paris attack has become so poisonous that it cannot portend anything positive.

In the latest, the Republican front-runner said the United States would have “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques. And, when asked by a reporter, he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t have a problem registering Muslims, which many have condemned, comparing it to the way Jews were once treated. (After heavy bipartisan criticism, he tried to walk back his remarks about the registry.)

And then Dr. Ben Carson drew a tortured parallel between Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, and “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”

Robert McCaw, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations,told Al Jazeera that Carson’s remarks were “unthinkable,” saying, “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog — and that’s put it down.”

Indeed, this is the problem with reckless, racist rhetoric: Each utterance tosses one more log onto the bonfire that can burn out a space for the unimaginable.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his 1967 “The Other America” speech: “Racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.” As King put it:

“If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”

Whereas these candidates may not be conscious of this “ultimate logic” or in any way approve of it, it doesn’t make their language any less dangerous when it lands on the ears of the minorities on the margins, or those looking for a reason to gussy up their wrongheadedness with righteousness.

A 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study “found that in the most Republican states in the country, employers may be less likely to interview job candidates whose social networking profiles indicate that the applicants are Muslim,” according to Pew.

As Pew explained:

“In the 10 states with the highest proportion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney voters in the 2012 election, 17 percent of Christian applicants received interview calls, compared with 2 percent of the Muslim job candidates. There were no differences in callbacks received by the Christian and Muslim candidates in the 10 states with the lowest proportion of Romney voters.”

Late last month, Lawrence Downes reported on a poll in a red state with this caveat:

“It’s just one poll in one Southern state, North Carolina, by one polling outfit (Public Policy Polling, or PPP) with Democratic Party ties, asking questions of a few hundred Republican primary voters.”

“But still,” Downes continued, these were the results: 72 percent believed a Muslim should not be allowed to be president of the United States, and 40 percent believed that Islam should be illegal in this country.

It is no wonder, then, that a 2011 Pew Research Center Muslim American survey found that just 11 percent of Muslims identify with or lean toward Republicans, while 70 percent do likewise for Democrats.

Furthermore, a 2013 paper co-published by the Center for American Progress and the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice found:

“A troubling trend is quickly developing in state legislatures across the country: In a thinly concealed attempt to inflame anti-Muslim attitudes, lawmakers in 32 states have moved to ban foreign or international law. The bans are based on model legislation designed by anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi and promoted by activists who have stirred up fears that Islamic laws and customs — commonly referred to as ‘Sharia’ — are taking over American courts. Although proponents of these bans have failed to cite a single instance where a U.S. court has relied on Sharia to resolve a dispute, foreign law bans have been enacted in Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arizona, while a related ban on religious law has been enacted in South Dakota.”

As the ACLU has written of these laws:

“Efforts to single out Muslims and to advance the ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American are unjust and discriminatory and should be rejected. Laws that single out Sharia violate the First Amendment by treating one belief system as suspect.”

This demonizing a single religious faith is a slippery slope. It feeds something that is at odds with the most noble ambition of this country’s better angels: equality.

The 2011 Pew survey found that among Muslim Americans: “Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28 percent), and being called offensive names (22 percent). And while 21 percent report being singled out by airport security, 13 percent say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. Overall, a 52 percent majority says that government antiterrorism policies single out Muslims in the U.S. for increased surveillance and monitoring.”

We must put a lid on this corrosive language. Simply put, being specifically anti-Muslim is, in a way, anti-American.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

To the right’s dismay, scare tactics — remember death panels? — and spurious legal challenges failed to protect the nation from the scourge of guaranteed health coverage. Still, Obamacare’s opponents insisted that it would implode in a “death spiral” of low enrollment and rising costs.

But the law’s first two years of full implementation went remarkably well. The number of uninsured Americans dropped sharply, roughly in line with projections, while costs came in well below expectations. Opponents of reform could have reconsidered their position — but that hardly ever happens in modern politics. Instead, they doubled down on their forecasts of doom, and hyped every hint of bad news.

I mention all of this to give you some perspective on recent developments that mark a break in the string of positive surprises. Yes, Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.

Obamacare seeks to cover the uninsured through two channels. Lower-income Americans are covered via a federally-funded expansion of Medicaid, which was supposed to be nationwide but has been rejected in many Republican-controlled states. Everyone else has access to policies sold by private insurers who cannot discriminate based on medical history; these policies are supposed to be made affordable by subsidies that depend on your income.

Nobody ever expected Obamacare to cover all the uninsured. In fact, Congressional Budget Office projections made in 2013 suggested that about 10 percent of nonelderly U.S. residents would remain uncovered: some because they are undocumented immigrants, some because of the gap created by red-state Medicaid rejection and some because they would fall through the cracks of a complicated system. But the law was nonetheless projected to produce a sharp reduction in the number of Americans without insurance, and it has, especially in states like California that have tried to make it work.

Meanwhile, both insurance premiums and the cost of subsidies designed to make them affordable came in far below expectations in both 2014 and 2015.

Sooner or later, of course, there were bound to be some negative surprises. And we’re now, finally, getting a bit of bad, or at least not-great, news about health reform.

First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected. There’s a lot of variation across states, but the average increase will be around 11 percent. That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.

Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps. Some people may not know about these mitigating factors — that’s the problem with a fairly complex system — but awareness should improve over time.

Finally, UnitedHealth Group made a splash by announcing that it is losing money on the policies it sells on the Obamacare exchanges, and is considering withdrawing from the market after next year. There were some puzzling things about the announcement, leading to speculation about ulterior motives, but the main thing to realize is that UnitedHealth, while a huge provider of employment-based insurance, is actually a fairly small player in this market, and that other players are sounding much more positive.

Oh, and official projections now say that fewer people will enroll in those exchanges than previously predicted. But the main reason is that surprisingly few employers are dropping coverage; overall projections for the number of uninsured Americans still look pretty good.

So where does that leave us? Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way.

But are we looking at the beginnings of a death spiral? Some people are indeed saying that, but as far as I can tell, they’re all people who have been predicting disaster every step of the way, and will still be predicting imminent collapse a decade from now.

The reality is that Obamacare is an imperfect system, but it’s workable — and it’s working.

Krugman’s blog, 11/20/15

November 21, 2015

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Desperately Seeking Consensus:”

Kein Konsens hier.
Kein Konsens hier.

The good people at Vox EU are engaged in a laudable effort to clear the ground for euro reform, starting with the formulation of a “consensus narrative” about the origins of the euro crisis. This is a very good idea: How you think about the past plays a very large role in how you think about what should be done next.

Furthermore, their narrative looks very right to me. No, the EZ crisis wasn’t about fiscal irresponsibility, or failure to undertake structural reforms, or the debilitating effects of the welfare state, or any of the other stories floated by motivated reasoners. It was a “sudden stop” crisis, in which vast capital flows into peripheral economies came to an abrupt halt, precipitating severe hardship largely thanks to the ; fiscal issues were a consequence, not a cause, of this financial harrowing.

But can they actually get the consensus they seek? It’s definitely worth trying. It’s obvious, however, that a lot of people inside and outside the eurozone have strong vested interests in other narratives. Will German officials stop insisting that it’s all about fiscal profligacy? Will Osborne & Co., or for that matter U.S. fiscal scolds, accept a narrative in which membership in the euro was a crucial element of the debacle, undermining their warnings that the UK or the US will turn into Greece, Greece I tell you unless we adopt austerity now now now?

I have my doubts, to say the least.

Yesterday’s second post was “The Expansionary Austerity Zombie:”

The doctrine of expansionary austerity — the proposition that cuts in government spending would actually cause higher growth despite their direct negative impact on demand, thanks to the confidence fairy — was all the rage in policy circles five years ago. But it brutally failed the reality test; instead, the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to the continued existence of something very like the old-fashioned Keynesian multiplier.

But expansionary austerity was and is such a convenient doctrine politically that, like insistence on the magical effects of tax cuts, it has proved unkillable. Every economic uptick in an economy that practiced austerity in the past is trumpeted as proof that Keynesians were wrong and the austerians were right; never mind distinctions between levels and rates of change, or the fact that even the most Keynesian economists never asserted that fiscal policy is the *only* determinant of growth. (Animal spirits, anyone?) And in a predictable case of projection, anyone presenting the evidence gets accused of cherry-picking the data.

It’s never going to be possible to kill this zombie once and for all. But mainly for my own sake, I decided to provide a somewhat new take on the evidence.

The figure above covers the period from 2007 to 2015. This is a break from my previous efforts, which tended to start from 2009, just before the big austerity drive began.

On the horizontal axis I show an estimate of fiscal tightening, as measured by the IMF’s estimate of the cyclically adjusted primary balance (i.e., excluding interest payments) as a percentage of GDP. I have some doubts about that measure; in particular, the Fund’s method for estimating potential GDP tends to make pre-crisis economies look much more overheated than they probably were, and hence to make their structural budget position look worse; I think this is especially distorting in the case of Ireland, which has not in reality done more austerity than Greece. But in the interest of clarity, I’m just using the numbers as given.

Meanwhile, on the vertical axis I show, not the raw change in GDP, but the deviation of real GDP from what the IMF was projecting before the crisis. I derive the latter from the economic projections in the April 2008 World Economic Outlook, which went out to 2013; I assumed that projected growth 2007-2013 was expected to continue for two more years to get 2015 estimates.

What you see is a clear negative relationship between austerity and growth — actually an implied multiplier of almost 2. You also see some countries clearly experiencing other issues besides the effects of austerity. Ireland has done badly, but not as badly as you might have expected given the measured fiscal tightening (but see the discussion above.) Finland has done very badly despite mild austerity; the collapse of Nokia and the problems of forest products did the job there. The same is true of Spain, afflicted by the collapse of its mammoth housing bubble.

But the data continue to show an overwhelmingly Keynesian effect of fiscal policy. It take a lot of effort to see anything different in the evidence.

Brooks and Krugman

November 20, 2015

Yowzah…  All bets are off…  In “Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS” Bobo says she just became the first of the presidential candidates to put forward a comprehensive, mature plan to fight ISIS and Assad.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “When David Brooks starts praising Hillary Clinton over the Republicans he’s devoted his life to supporting, you know we’re in uncharted territory. Normal rules of engagement don’t apply.”  In “The Farce Awakens” Prof. Krugman says Republicans’ panic over Syrian refugees fits a pattern.  Here’s Bobo:

This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.

For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007.

That will not happen while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide. As long as they find themselves in the grips of a horrific civil war, even sensible Sunnis will feel that they need ISIS as a counterpoint to the butchery coming out of Damascus.

Clinton therefore gestured to the reality that you can’t really deal with ISIS unless you are also willing to deal with Assad. Assad is not some secondary threat who we can deal with after we’ve tamed the ISIS monster. Assad created the failed state and the power vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. Assad serves as chief recruiter for ISIS every time he drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market. Assad, as Clinton pointed out, has murdered even more Syrians than ISIS has.

Dealing with both Assad and ISIS simultaneously throws you into the bitter and complex jockeying between Sunni and Shiite, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It puts pressure on your Ukraine policy (Vladimir Putin will want concessions as a price for backing off his aggression in the Middle East). Everything is connected. Which is why the presidency is for grown-ups, not rank outsiders.

Some of Clinton’s specific prescriptions were a little too limited and Obamaesque for my taste (she didn’t even call for more American Special Operations forces to improve the bombing campaigns, though she said she would be open to it). But she is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward. She seems to understand that if we end up allying with Russia in a common fight against terrorism, we will end up preserving Assad, preserving ISIS and making everything worse.

Some Republicans have stained themselves with refugee xenophobia, but there’s a bigger story here: For a time, the Middle East was held together by Arab nation-states and a belief in Arab nationalisms. Recently Arab nationalisms have withered and Arab nation-states have begun to dissolve from their own decrepitude.

Along comes ISIS filling that vacuum and trying to destroy what’s left of Arab nations. ISIS dreams of a caliphate. It erases borders. It destroys order.

The Arab nation-states were not great. But the nation-state system did preserve a certain order. National identities and boundaries enabled Sunnis and Shiites to live together peaceably. If nations go away in the region we’ll get a sectarian war of all against all, radiating terrorism like we’ve never seen.

The grand strategy of American policy in the Middle East, therefore, should be to do what we can to revive and reform Arab nations, to help them become functioning governing units.

That means confronting the forces that thrive in failed states. That begins with stepped-up military pressure on ISIS. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations proposes a campaign like the one that allowed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 — a light footprint campaign using Special Operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries to direct allied bombing in support of locals on the ground. Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.

But it also means going hard on Assad, creating no-fly zones for sanctuaries for Syrian refugees to limit his power, ratcheting up pressure on Iran and Russia to force his departure. And it also means supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom.

Before Paris it was possible to argue that time was on our side, that we could sit back and let ISIS collapse under the weight of its own craziness. The Paris attacks refuted that. ISIS is becoming an ever more aggressive threat. The F.B.I. already has over 900 active Islamic State investigations ongoing. Lord knows what sort of biological or other weapons the group can get its hands on.

Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach. The next president will have to provide the action.

Okay.  We’re officially down the rabbit hole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState’s annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.

So it’s worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn’t think highly of President Obama’s antiterrorism policies.

Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won’t be going to see the new “Star Wars” movie on opening day, because “there are no metal detectors at American theaters.”

It’s a bizarre reaction — but when you think about it, it’s part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.

Consider first the reaction to the Paris attacks. Lightsabers aside, are Mr. Erickson’s fears any sillier than those of the dozens of governors — almost all Republicans — who want to ban Syrian refugees from their states?

Mr. Obama certainly thinks they’re being ridiculous; he mocked politicians who claim that they’re so tough that they could stare down America’s enemies, but are “scared of widows and orphans.” (He was probably talking in particular about Chris Christie, who has said that he even wants to ban young children.) Again, the contrast with France, where President François Hollande has reaffirmed the nation’s willingness to take in refugees, is striking.

And it’s pretty hard to find anyone on that side of the aisle, even among seemingly respectable voices, showing the slightest hint of perspective. Jeb Bush, the erstwhile establishment candidate, wants to clamp down on accepting refugees unless “you can prove you’re a Christian.” The historian Niall Ferguson, a right-wing favorite, says the Paris attacks were exactly like the sack of Rome by the Goths. Hmm: Were ancient Romans back in the cafes a few days later?

But we shouldn’t really be surprised, because we’ve seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What’s more, the supposed “solutions” were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that “the plague will start and spread” in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control — but it’s unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right’s propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it’s also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.

Given this context, it’s only natural that the right would seize on a terrorist attack in France as proof that Mr. Obama has left America undefended and vulnerable. Ted Cruz, who has a real chance of becoming the Republican nominee, goes so far as to declare that the president “does not wish to defend this country.”

The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump’s candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security.

Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Sure enough, polling since the Paris attack suggests that Mr. Trump has actually gained ground.

The point is that at this point panic is what the right is all about, and the Republican nomination will go to whoever can most effectively channel that panic. Will the same hold true in the general election? Stay tuned.

All they’ve got to peddle at this point is pants-piddling panic.  And the mindless Faux Noise watching knuckle walkers eat it up with a spoon.


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