Blow and Krugman

In “Ben Carson and the Truth” Mr. Blow says a mounting list of disproven claims threatens not only the Republican’s campaign, but perhaps more importantly, his lucrative celebrity.  Nah, wingnuts will still flock to him.  And he’ll keep on, just like Sarah “I can see Russia from my back porch” Palin.  Grifters gotta grift…  Prof. Krugman, in “Despair, American Style,” is searching for economic and cultural reasons why middle-aged white Americans are dying sooner.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Ben Carson appears to have a somewhat complicated relationship with the truth, or at least that is the picture emerging of him as new challenges to the truthfulness of his biography surface.

After Politico checked into Carson’s claim that he had received an offer of a “full scholarship” to West Point, his campaign was forced to concede that he had never actually applied and been granted admission, but the campaign “attempted to recast his previous claims of a full scholarship to the military academy — despite numerous public and written statements to the contrary over the last few decades,” the news outlet reported.

(Politico came under scrutiny itself for the way it initially characterized Carson’s concession.)

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal looked into another episode: “In his 1990 autobiography, ‘Gifted Hands,’ Mr. Carson writes of a Yale psychology professor who told Mr. Carson, then a junior, and the other students in the class — identified by Mr. Carson as Perceptions 301 — that their final exam papers had ‘inadvertently burned,’ requiring all 150 students to retake it. The new exam, Mr. Carson recalled in the book, was much tougher. All the students but Mr. Carson walked out. ‘The professor came toward me. With her was a photographer for the Yale Daily News who paused and snapped my picture,’ Mr. Carson wrote. ‘ “A hoax,” the teacher said. “We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class.” ’ Mr. Carson wrote that the professor handed him a $10 bill.”

But here is the kicker, according to The Journal: “No photo identifying Mr. Carson as a student ever ran, according to the Yale Daily News archives, and no stories from that era mention a class called Perceptions 301. Yale Librarian Claryn Spies said Friday there was no psychology course by that name or class number during any of Mr. Carson’s years at Yale.”

Sunday on ABC News, Carson claimed to have found the newspaper article about the incident published in the Yale Daily News and said that his campaign planned to release it. But also during that interview, he suggested that his autobiography wasn’t “100 percent accurate.”

And last week, CNN tried to find someone who could corroborate Carson’s account of having tried as a young man to stab a friend. The network interviewed nine friends, classmates and neighbors from Carson’s childhood, but none could remember the outburst. A 10th person initially said he had no recollections of any violent incidents, but when asked directly about the stabbing incident, “said he had heard talk about an incident like that back in those days, but didn’t know ‘if it was just a rumor or what.’ ” That’s clearly not proof that it didn’t happen, but it begs for some proof, anything or anyone (besides Carson), to say that it in fact did happen.

Maybe people might be a bit more willing to excuse some of these biographical blips if Carson hadn’t already been caught being dishonest on so many other subjects during the campaign.

The Journal pointed out that Carson falsely claimed last week in a Facebook post that “Every signer of the Declaration of Independence had no elected office experience.” The paper interviewed Benjamin L. Carp, an associate professor of history at Brooklyn College and author of books on the American Revolution. According to The Journal’s article on the matter: “Mr. Carp said Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and many other signers had been elected members of their colonial assemblies, prior to signing the Declaration.”

In comparing the success of his Carson Scholars Fund to other nonprofits, Carson has repeatedly claimed that “nine out of 10 nonprofits fail,” a claim that The Washington Post Fact Checker has rated false with four Pinocchios, the worst rating — what the newspaper simply calls “whoppers.”

Of the 19 claims of Carson the fact checking site PolitiFact has delved into, none have been ruled true and only one mostly true. Indeed most — like Carson’s claim that he “ ‘didn’t have an involvement with’ nutritional supplement company Mannatech” — have either been ruled false or what the site calls “pants on fire,” a statement the site rules as not only not accurate, but “ridiculous.”

Carson has pushed back on the biographical charges with more verve that he has exhibited at any of the debates. That is because the biographical charges don’t simply threaten the Carson campaign, they threaten Carson the corporation — the former I have always contended was simply a vehicle for the latter. Has no one else wondered why Carson’s chief media surrogate isn’t his campaign manager or communications director, but his business manager, Armstrong Williams?

Carson may no longer be a practicing physician, but he is a full-time profiteer, selling his story in books and speeches and paid handsomely to do so. Good work, if you can get it. But these new charges threaten to reduce the legend to a fairy tale, and thereby threaten the checks to be cashed after the votes have been cashed.

Media observers seem to me too focused on Ben Carson the candidate. I remain focused on Ben Carson the enterprise, and apparently, so is he.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

A couple of weeks ago President Obama mocked Republicans who are “down on America,” and reinforced his message by doing a pretty good Grumpy Cat impression. He had a point: With job growth at rates not seen since the 1990s, with the percentage of Americans covered by health insurance hitting record highs, the doom-and-gloom predictions of his political enemies look ever more at odds with reality.

Yet there is a darkness spreading over part of our society. And we don’t really understand why.

There has been a lot of comment, and rightly so, over a new paper by the economists Angus Deaton (who just won a Nobel) and Anne Case, showing that mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. This deterioration took place while death rates were falling steadily both in other countries and among other groups in our own nation.

Even more striking are the proximate causes of rising mortality. Basically, white Americans are, in increasing numbers, killing themselves, directly or indirectly. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. We’ve seen this kind of thing in other times and places – for example, in the plunging life expectancy that afflicted Russia after the fall of Communism. But it’s a shock to see it, even in an attenuated form, in America.

Yet the Deaton-Case findings fit into a well-established pattern. There have been a number of studies showing that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation. Rising suicides and overuse of opioids are known problems. And while popular culture may focus more on meth than on prescription painkillers or good old alcohol, it’s not really news that there’s a drug problem in the heartland.

But what’s causing this epidemic of self-destructive behavior?

If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.

For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.

You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

What about a materialist explanation? Is rising mortality a consequence of rising inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class?

Well, it’s not that simple. We are, after all, talking about the consequences of behavior, and culture clearly matters a great deal. Most notably, Hispanic Americans are considerably poorer than whites, but have much lower mortality. It’s probably worth noting, in this context, that international comparisons consistently find that Latin Americans have higher subjective well-being than you would expect, given their incomes.

So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.

That sounds like a plausible hypothesis to me, but the truth is that we don’t really know why despair appears to be spreading across Middle America. But it clearly is, with troubling consequences for our society as a whole.

In particular, I know I’m not the only observer who sees a link between the despair reflected in those mortality numbers and the volatility of right-wing politics. Some people who feel left behind by the American story turn self-destructive; others turn on the elites they feel have betrayed them. No, deporting immigrants and wearing baseball caps bearing slogans won’t solve their problems, but neither will cutting taxes on capital gains. So you can understand why some voters have rallied around politicians who at least seem to feel their pain.

At this point you probably expect me to offer a solution. But while universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble, I’m not sure whether they’re enough to cure existential despair.

Gee — maybe the uneducated are finally coming to grips with the fact that they’ve been being lied to for 40 years by the people they’ve voted into office.  And that those people are the cause of their suffering.

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One Response to “Blow and Krugman”

  1. Farthing Says:

    There seems to be a connection between the election for governor of Kentucky and the concern by wealthy white men in business who blame their voters ills on Obamacare and Medicaid. It doesn’t strike one so obviously among majority voters that a billionaire has more to gain by lowering expectations that the state should have an interest in the health and welfare of its citizens. Promising less gets one elected. This is parallel to the war on Christmas crowd which sees Walmart as a corporate sponsor of commercialism (unique!) which is not in line with their church sermon. Why it should be I don’t know. I suppose for these Christians their personal troubles should be taken out on corporations for their failure to have religious indoctrination a part of the greeter’s salutation. Anyway I thought the anti-Christ message of capitalism was what they were railing about at Walmart but it seems removing far north deer from Starbucks cups is also proof of hating Jesus according to the self made prophet Mr. F’stein. Imagine a man so attached to Christ’s spirit he has time to go to ‘Bucks?

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