Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

In “Trump’s Troubles in the Black Belt” Mr. Blow says there are signs of Republican decline, even in the Deep South.  Mr. Cohen, in “The World Loves Refugees, When They’re Olympians,” says the world is moved by Team Refugees at the Olympics but unmoved by refugees. More than words are needed for 65 million displaced people.  Prof. Krugman says it’s “Time to Borrow,” and states the overwhelming case for deficit spending.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There has been much talk this election about the fundamental transformation of voters in the Rust Belt and what that portends for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But there is another belt also worth keeping an eye on for its remarkable electoral transformation: The Black Belt, a series of counties with large black populations, that stretches from the Deep South to the Mid-Atlantic (Florida is not a Black Belt state.)

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found that a measly 1 percent of registered black voters overall support Trump.

That’s extremely problematic in states with high numbers of black voters. The more black voters Clinton gets, the fewer white ones she needs.

The northernmost of these states have already voted Democratic in recent elections — Maryland since 1992; Virginia since 2008. North Carolina even flipped in 2008. But now, with Trump as the G.O.P. standard-bearer, the Black Belt states in the Deep South also look shaky.

A Georgia poll conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and released Friday showed Clinton leading Trump by four percentage points in the resiliently red state in a head-to-head matchup and by three percentage points when Libertarian and Green Party candidates are included.

On Friday, a headline on AL.com in Alabama blared: “Poll shows Clinton leading in Georgia: Is Alabama next?” It’s a question worth pondering in a state where 27 percent of the registered voters are black, according to a January Pew Research Center report. But it should be noted that Alabama is doing its very best to disenfranchise as many of those voters as possible.

As John Archibald pointed out on AL.com in the fall: “Take a look at the 10 Alabama counties with the highest percentage of nonwhite registered voters.” He pointed out that the state “opted to close driver license bureaus in eight of them.” As he put it: “Closed. In a state in which driver licenses or special photo IDs are a requirement for voting.” Furthermore, “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one.”

Welcome to the South, folks. And thank you very much, Chief Justice John Roberts, for your opinion in the disastrous Shelby County vs. Holder case. How did you put it: In the South, “Things have changed dramatically.” Yeah, right.

Then there is Alabama’s western neighbor, Mississippi, which had the highest percentage of black people of any state (37 percent) in the most recent census, but which has not voted for a Democratic president in 40 years. A Mason-Dixon poll in April gave Trump only a small margin over Clinton, although FiveThirtyEight.com still gives Trump a 76 percent chance of winning it.

Lastly, there’s Louisiana, probably the hardest of the hard sells, where the Trump supporter and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke has said he is running for the U.S. Senate. In a recent poll conducted by the University of New Orleans’ Survey Research Center, Duke “gets support from 14 percent of black voters — a figure that eclipses the support Trump gets nationally or in nearby Georgia in a new poll from that state,” as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump put it, giving a hat tip to tweets from The New York Times’s Campbell Robertson.

(Louisiana is my home state, but don’t ask me to explain this. I can’t. Somebody drank all that magnolia wine.)

Now, of course, winning in many, if not most, of these states is simply wishful thinking for Democrats, mere flashes in a pan, but the fact that some of these Deep South states have showed up in any poll — even a single poll — with Clinton in the lead is noteworthy, if not earth-shattering.

The Republican Party’s 2012 autopsy report said: “Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

It continued:

“We need to campaign among Hispanic, black, Asian, and gay Americans and demonstrate we care about them, too. We must recruit more candidates who come from minority communities. But it is not just tone that counts. Policy always matters.”

And then this year the party nominated Trump, a man who alienates all of these communities. (Insert roll of eyes.)

The black vote will be crucial this year, just as it was in the last election. As The Cook Report put it in July 2015:

“Deconstructing exit poll data from 2012, African-American voters accounted for Obama’s entire margin of victory in seven states: Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Without these states’ 112 electoral votes, Obama would have lost decisively.”

If Trump loses in November and the black vote tips even one of the Deep South, Black Belt states blue, the Republicans won’t only need an autopsy, they’ll need a Ouija board — because they’ll be dead and buried.

Mr. Blow, you can’t say that a red state has tipped blue just because the top of the ticket won.  You’ve got to look down-ballot at the House and Senate.  Still red, still red…  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

The world is moved by Team Refugees at the Olympics in Rio. They are greeted with a standing ovation at the opening ceremony. Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, not a man given to extravagant displays of emotion, is all smiles.

President Obama tweets support for these 10 athletes who “prove that you can succeed no matter where you’re from.” Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, posts a video on Facebook in which she speaks of the world’s 65 million displaced people— the largest number since World War II — and says they “are dreaming bigger because you’re doing what you’re doing.”

Who could fail to be moved? These are brave people. They have fled anguish in search not of a better life, but of life itself. In general, you do not choose to become a refugee because you have a choice, but because you have no choice. Like Yusra Mardini, the 18-year-old Syrian refugee from a Damascus suburb, who left a country that now exists only in name, and reached Germany only after the small boat bringing her from Turkey to Greece started taking on water in heavy seas. She and her sister Sarah dived into the water and for more than three hours pushed until it reached the island of Lesbos.

In Rio, Mardini won her heat of the 100-meter butterfly, but did not advance due to her inferior time. Still, hers is a remarkable achievement.

Yes, the world is moved by Team Refugees. Yet, it is unmoved by refugees.

They die at sea. They die sealed in the back of a truck. They die anonymous deaths. Fences are erected, walls mooted. Posters decry them. They represent danger and threaten disruption. They are freeloaders. They are left in festering limbo on remote Pacific islands. There is talk of a threat to “European civilization” — read Christian Europe. There is talk of making the United States great again — read making the United States white again.

Rightist political parties thrive by scapegoating them. Nobody wants refugees. They could be terrorists or rapists. They sit in reception centers. The United States pledged to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year. In the previous four years, it had admitted about 1,900. This is a pittance. About 4.8 million Syrians have fled their country since the war began.

One Western country, Germany, has shown political courage commensurate with the challenge and thrown open its doors. Having plumbed the depths of depravity, it knows a moral imperative when it sees one.

The world loves Team Refugees — the two swimmers from Syria, the two judokas originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the marathoner from Ethiopia, the five runners from South Sudan. It admires Rami Anis, a Syrian swimmer now living in Belgium. His hometown is Aleppo, cravenly abandoned by the West to bombardment by Russian forces. Russia strolled into Syria when it realized, after several years of war, that the United States would not lift a finger.

Yes, let’s cheer the refugee team in Rio, the first of its kind, but not with empty words, and not to assuage our Syrian consciences. They walk now under an Olympic flag. They want the flag of a homeland. Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, said: “We want to send a message of hope for all refugees in our world.” But after the fanfare, will anyone remember?

The world is being pulled in two directions at once. The force of globalization, of nomadic humanity, of borderless cyberspace has engendered an equally strong counter-force of nationalism, nativist politics and anti-immigrant bigotry. The two trends are poised in a tense equilibrium.

I lived in Brazil for several years. It is a generous country. Perhaps no other nation has such a mestizo culture, such ingrained habits of mingling. It feels right that this outreach to Team Refugees should have happened in Rio, a city of miscegenation and openness.

The glorification of Team Refugees and the vilification of refugees coexist. How can they? It’s the old principle: Not in my backyard. “We are getting better and we are getting worse at the same time,” Paul Auster, the novelist, told me. “And at the same speed.”

I am reminded of the words of my friend Fritz Stern, the distinguished historian who died this year. “I was born into a world on the cusp of avoidable disaster.” He continued, “The fragility of freedom is the simplest and deepest lesson of my life and work.”

Freedom cannot be built on exclusion and hatred. It is a universal human right. Brazil and the International Olympic Committee have given the world a glimpse of the humanity and aspirations of each refugee. Perhaps, after all, we are getting better faster than we are getting worse, and barriers will continue to fall — but not through words alone.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

The campaign still has three ugly months to go, but the odds — 83 percent odds, according to the New York Times’s model — are that it will end with the election of a sane, sensible president. So what should she do to boost America’s economy, which is doing better than most of the world but is still falling far short of where it should be?

There are, of course, many ways our economic policy could be improved. But the most important thing we need is sharply increased public investment in everything from energy to transportation to wastewater treatment.

How should we pay for this investment? We shouldn’t — not now, or any time soon. Right now there is an overwhelming case for more government borrowing.

Let me walk through this case, then address some of the usual objections.

First, we have obvious, pressing needs for public investment in many areas. In Washington, the aging Metro is in such bad shape that whole lines may have to be shut down for maintenance. In Florida, green slime infests beaches, in large part because failure to upgrade an 80-year-old dike or to purchase more land as a runoff area is forcing the Army Corps of Engineers to release polluted water from Lake Okeechobee. There are similar stories all across America.

So investing more in infrastructure would clearly make us richer. Meanwhile, the federal government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates: 10-year, inflation-protected bonds yielded just 0.09 percent on Friday.

Put these two facts together — big needs for public investment, and very low interest rates — and it suggests not just that we should be borrowing to invest, but that this investment might well pay for itself even in purely fiscal terms. How so? Spending more now would mean a bigger economy later, which would mean more tax revenue. This additional revenue would probably be larger than any rise in future interest payments.

And this analysis doesn’t even take into account the potential role of public investment in job creation: Despite a low headline unemployment rate, the U.S. economy is still probably short of full employment, and an investment agenda would also offer valuable insurance against possible future downturns.

So why aren’t we borrowing and investing? Here are some of the usual objections, and why they’re wrong.

We can’t borrow because we already have too much debt. People who say this usually like to cite big numbers — “Our debt is 19 trillion dollars,” they intone in their best Dr. Evil voice. But everything about the U.S. economy is huge, and what matters is the comparison between the cost of servicing our debt and our ability to pay. And federal interest payments are only 1.3 percent of G.D.P., low by historical standards.

Borrowing costs may be low now, but they might rise. Yes, maybe. But we’re talking about long-term borrowing that locks in today’s low rates. If 10 years isn’t long enough for you, how about 30-year, inflation-protected bonds? They’re only yielding 0.64 percent.

The government can’t do anything right. Solyndra! Solyndra! Benghazi! A large part of our political class is committed to the proposition that any and all government efforts to improve our lives are doomed to failure — a proposition that turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy when these people are actually in office. But to hold that view you have to turn your back on our own history: American greatness was in large part created by government investment or private investment shaped by public support, from the Erie Canal, to the transcontinental railroads, to the Interstate Highway System.

As for the constant harping on individual failures, all large organizations, private businesses very much included, engage in some projects that don’t work out. Yes, some renewable-energy investments went bad — but overall, the Obama administration’s promotion of solar and wind has been a huge success, with a rough quadrupling of production since 2008. Green energy should be seen as an inspiration, not a cautionary tale.

There is, in short, an overwhelming policy case for federal borrowing to pay for public investment. But will the next president be able to act on this case?

The good news is that elite discourse seems, finally, to be moving in the right direction. Five years ago the Beltway crowd was fixated on debt and deficits as the great evils. Today, not so much.

The bad news is that even if Hillary Clinton wins, she may well face the same kind of scorched-earth Republican opposition President Obama faced from day one. So it matters not just who wins in November, but by how much. Will there be a strong enough Democratic wave to give Mrs. Clinton the ability to act?

But while the politics remain uncertain, it’s clear what we should be doing. It’s time for the federal government to borrow and invest.

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