Archive for the ‘Another pile of crap’ Category

Friedman and Bruni

January 6, 2016

In “Up With Extremism” The Moustache of Wisdom offers us the radical campaign platform we need, but he says we’re just not ready for it.  In “The Clintons’ Secret Language” Mr. Bruni tells us that Bill and Hillary have a marriage like any other — it’s unknowable from the outside.  Here’s TMOW:

From its very inception, Donald Trump’s campaign for president has been life imitating Twitter. His candidacy is built on Twitter bursts and insults that touch hot buttons, momentarily salve anxieties and put a fist through the face of political correctness, but without any credible programs for implementation.

Where Trump has been a true innovator is in his willingness to rhetorically combine positions from the isolationist right, the far right, the center right and the center left. If I were running for president, I’d approach politics in the same way: not as a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian or a centrist.

I’d run as an extremist.

The agenda that could actually make America great again would combine the best ideas of the extreme left and the extreme right. This year is probably too soon for such a radical platform, but by 2020 — after more extreme weather, after machines replace more middle-class jobs, after more mass shootings and after much more global disorder — voters will realize that our stale left-right parties can’t produce the needed answers for our postindustrial era. Accelerations in Moore’s law, the market and climate change are transforming the workplace, the environment and nation-states, leaving people feeling insecure and unmoored.

It’s time for a true nonpartisan extremist, one whose platform combines the following:

■ A single-payer universal health care system. If it can work for Canada, Australia and Sweden and provide generally better health outcomes at lower prices, it can work for us, and get U.S. companies out of the health care business.

■ Expansion of the earned-income tax credit to top-up wages for low-income workers and introduction of a negative income tax to ensure a government-guaranteed income floor for every American. In an age when machines are gobbling low-skilled jobs, we’ll need both.

■ Common Core education standards as the law of the land, to raise education benchmarks across the country, so high school graduates meet the higher skill levels that good jobs will increasingly demand. But those higher standards should be phased in with funding to enable every teacher to have the professional development time to learn the new curriculum those standards require and to buy the materials needed to teach it.

■ Controlling low-skilled immigration while removing all limits on H-1B visas for foreign high-skilled knowledge workers and doubling the research funding for our national labs and institutes of health to drive basic research. Nothing would spin off more new good jobs and industries than that combination.

■ New accelerated tax incentives and elimination of all regulatory barriers to rapidly scale up deployment of superfast bandwidth for both wire line and wireless networks to ensure that next-generation Internet services are developed in America. And borrowing $100 billion at today’s super-low government interest rates to upgrade our ports, airports and grids and to create jobs.

■ Bans on the manufacture and sale of all semiautomatic and other military-style guns and government offers to buy back any rifle or pistol in circulation. It won’t solve the problem, but Australia proved that such programs can help reduce gun deaths.

■ To pay for all this, a phased-in innovation and tax agenda that incentivizes start-ups and hiring. That means: Slash all corporate taxes, income taxes, personal deductions and corporate subsidies and replace them with a carbon tax, a value-added consumption tax (except on groceries and other necessities), a tax on bullets and a tax on all sugary drinks — with offsets for the lowest-income earners.

We need a tax system that shrinks what we don’t want — carbon, sugar and bullets — and incentivizes what we need. If we slash corporate taxes, many more companies will want to locate here, and the ones domiciled here will have the incentive to bring home foreign profits and plow them into research and new business lines.

■ An independent commission appointed to review Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley to determine which, if any, of their provisions are needlessly making it harder for entrepreneurs to raise capital or start businesses. We need to be sure we’re preventing recklessness — not risk-taking.

■ Copy Britain: Strictly limit national political campaign spending and the length of the campaign to a period of a few months. It makes it much harder for billionaires to buy candidates.

■ Increased military spending and ensuring that our intelligence services have all the legally monitored latitude they need to confront today’s cyberenabled terrorists — because if there’s one more 9/11, many voters will be ready to throw out all civil liberties. And with the world cleaving into zones of “order” and “disorder,” we’ll need to project more power to protect the former and stabilize the latter.

In sum, our slow growth, inequality and national security challenges require radical solutions: strengthening safety nets, curbing the bad environmental and health behaviors that are bankrupting us and paying for it all by sharply incentivizing risk-taking, innovation, investment and hiring.

That calls for a nonpartisan extremist for president who’s ready to go far left and far right — simultaneously. That’s my 2020 vision, and in four years the country just might be ready for it.

One of the biggest pimps for W’s clusterfck wants increased military spending…  How special.  Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

Remember the Gores? Al and Tipper? At the Democratic convention in 2000, they shared that hungry, happy kiss, and it was more than a meeting of lips. It was a window, or so we thought, into a partnership of enduring passion and inextinguishable tenderness.

They’re separated now. Have been for more than five years.

And the Edwardses? John and Elizabeth? He resembled a Ken doll. She didn’t take after Barbie. That endeared them to voters — endeared him to voters. Only later did we learn about his double life, the furious fights and the copious tears.

We know nothing of other people’s marriages. Nothing at all.

So why do we pretend otherwise? Why do we make so many assumptions and judgments?

And why, every election cycle, do we treat candidates’ spouses and unions as the keys to their characters?

We can’t trust what’s paraded in front of us any more than we can take what journalists and opponents dig up as the essential truth. A person’s intimate life isn’t readily fathomed, and on the inside tends not to look anything like it does on the outside.

Bill Clinton hit the campaign trail this week. That brought back memories, or rather Donald Trump hauled those memories to the surface, and we were reminded anew of all that Bill and Hillary have been through (and have put us through): the infidelities, the intern, the lies, the smears.

We were also reminded of Hillary’s role in defending him. How did that square with her claim to be a champion of women? It’s fair to ask.

But the fascination with the Clintons as a couple goes beyond that question, beyond those scandals, to the belief in many quarters that we can divine something essential about each of them by the fact that they teamed up and stayed together.

According to her fans, it’s a measure of her understanding that people are broken, of her capacity for forgiveness, of her belief in commitments. According to her foes, it reveals a thirst for power that redeems any heartbreak and transcends all humiliation.

It could be proof of both — or neither. The answer isn’t gettable. Talk with six different people who know the Clintons well and you hear six different appraisals of their bond, each presented with unalloyed confidence.

I’ve been told that they light up around each other as they light up around no one else.

I’ve been told that there’s no extraordinary spark there, just a storehouse of shared memories, an accretion of endurable disappointments, a daughter, a granddaughter and a friendship.

I’ve been told that they’re really business associates, intricately involved in each other’s lives because they’re jointly invested in the perpetuation of their political relevance.

I’ve been told that they talk more than anyone would imagine. I’ve been told that they talk less.

In New Hampshire on Monday, when he described his first encounters with her some 45 years ago, he called her “the most amazing person” and said, “Everything she touched, she made better.”

Maybe that was a deeply felt tribute. Maybe just a great line.

Heidi Cruz will also be in New Hampshire this week. She’s a busy evangelist for Ted, half of a couple who present themselves as perfect. Perhaps.

Or perhaps, as the cringe-worthy outtakes from a Cruz campaign commercial suggest, they’re just equally meticulous about the script on which they’re collaborating, equally intent on a triumphant denouement.

I’m less and less interested in guessing, because I’m more and more aware of how compartmentalized people are, of how flawed and fruitless it is to extrapolate from one chamber of their lives to another. The stingiest spouse and parent can be the greatest boss, and vice versa. Someone who’s selfless and principled in one context is sometimes the opposite in another, as if there’s only so much goodness to go around.

And no chamber resists exploration and explanation like that of a marriage or comparable relationship.

We’re certain that we have it figured out — who musters the most patience, who makes the greatest sacrifices, who’s pure, who’s sullied — until it falls apart. Then we gape at the pieces, because none are recognizable.

We’re certain that social climbing or religious devotion is a couple’s glue, when what matters more is the secret language of goofy endearments that they speak. Or the unremarkable daily rituals that they’ve grown to relish. Or the tempo of his speech. Or the timbre of her laugh.

And when we come to our sweeping conclusions, we’re not perceiving but projecting, and we’re using couples to cling to our idealism or validate our cynicism. It’s a foolish game under any circumstances. It’s a dangerous one en route to the election of a president.

So of course Mr. Bruni, the male MoDo, plays the game of sniffing in the panty drawer.  Butthead.

Bruni, solo

December 30, 2015

Bruni seems to be slowly morphing into MoDo.  Today he gives us “The Juicy Subplots of 2016” in which he has questions:  Will Barack Obama bust loose? Will Bill Clinton lay low? Will it all come down to New Hampshire?  In the comments “Socrates” from Downtown Verona, NJ has this to say:  “Thanks for the Soap Opera review, Frank.  But this isn’t General Hospital, Days of Our Lives or As The World Turns.  This is reality for 320 million Americans looking for an ounce of journalistic and political leadership from those in a position of power in a 0.1%-hijacked country.  We don’t need another intellectually bankrupt reality show distraction with color commentary from the fourth estate.”  Here’s Bruni/MoDo:

In American politics, one narrative — one question — eclipses all others: Who will become the 45th president?

But there are dramas within that drama. There’s also suspense aplenty beyond center stage, and much of it does not involve Donald Trump, a third-party candidacy or the specter of a brokered Republican convention. This column, in the spirit of the holidays, will be a Trump-free zone.

Some of the following subplots could greatly influence the outcome of the presidential contest, while others have big implications for the sway and the health of the Republican and Democratic parties.

They’re just a glimmer of what 2016 has in store.

Barack Obama Unbound. He’s zipping down the road with Jerry Seinfeld. He’s unzipping his lip with Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio. He’s intensifying his fight against climate change.

As President Obama pivots into the final phase of his presidency, he seems to be heading in a new direction, toward greater candor, fewer inhibitions, no apologies. He has felt muzzled and misunderstood for much of his time in the White House. I sense a catharsis coming.

And it could complicate the inevitably strained etiquette between him and the Democratic presidential nominee, meaning Hillary Clinton. She’ll have to defend many aspects of his legacy and disparage others as she does and doesn’t campaign for a third Obama term. He’ll react to this as someone who’s losing his limited patience with political gamesmanship, who’s tired of playing the punching bag and whose aides and associates are sometimes aghast at the Clintons.

Side note: Watch for Joe Biden, by design or accident, to blurt out something harmful to her at some point.

Bill Clinton on the Loose. Until recent weeks, it was almost possible to forget him as presidential-race factor. Then Hillary Clinton, in the last Democratic debate, tagged him as a key economic adviser in any second Clinton administration. Her campaign confirmed that he’d be popping upmore often on the campaign trail. And references to his Oval Office misdeeds and the Clintons’ marital psychodrama started to creep back into the news.

All of that was a fresh reminder that his proper role in, and impact on, his wife’s candidacy is unsettled and unclear. He remains both wildly charismatic and maddeningly undisciplined. He connotes both prosperous times and cynical scheming.

There’s no legitimate worry that his presence might eclipse and diminish hers, but the two of them together root her candidacy as much in the past as in the future. So how to deploy and integrate him? Is it controllable?

All Eyes on New Hampshire. I don’t mean the state’s Republican and Democratic primaries in February. I mean the United States Senate election in November. The balance of power in the chamber could hinge on the battle between the Republican incumbent, Kelly Ayotte, and her Democratic challenger, Maggie Hassan, the state’s governor.

It won’t look like many other Senate contests. New Hampshire’s peculiar political realities mean that neither candidate is likely to be especially nasty or ideologically strident; each may well emphasize consensus-building and look for opportunities to flex independence from the party that’s paradoxically pumping enormous resources into her race.

And their matchup will underscore New Hampshire’s encouraging record of electing women to prominent public offices, where they’re still frustratingly underrepresented nationwide.

A Tale of Two Mayors. The Democratic mayors of two of the nation’s three most populous cities are under enormous strain, their approval ratings low, their approaches to governing under attack. I speak of Bill de Blasio in New York and Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, each of whom has acknowledged the need for redemption in 2016.

But while de Blasio’s greatest problems are with white voters, Emanuel has lost the trust in particular of minorities, who are justly outraged by the deadly actions of his city’s police officers.

The methods and success with which these remarkably different men chart their comebacks warrant scrutiny, harboring lessons about the Democratic Party’s ability to bridge diverse constituencies and about the most effective style of leadership for fractious, tense times.

Religion on the Run. Same-sex marriage became the law in 50 states despite the opposition of many prominent church figures. The percentage of Americans who don’t subscribe to any organized religion steadily grows.

And that means that whoever winds up with the Republican nomination has to figure out how to play down the primary’s degree of God talk and moralizing without alienating voters on the so-called religious right, who could cause a distracting scene, impede the party’s outreach to moderate and younger voters, and decide to sit out the election.

Can the party soften its image, adapt to the times and expand its appeal while satisfying evangelicals? Its success in presidential contests could hinge on that.

Mr. Bruni is capable of reasoned, insightful columns.  Too bad he’s stopped writing them lately.

Bobo, solo

December 1, 2015

Bobo is channeling MoDo again, and trying to be “cute.”  In “The Green Tech Solution” he says he was unsure what to make of the Paris climate talks, so he asked our hippest Founding Father for advice.  When Bobo starts using words like “hippest” you know you’re in trouble…  Here he is:

I’ve been confused about this Paris climate conference and how the world should move forward to ameliorate climate change, so I séanced up my hero Alexander Hamilton to see what he thought. I was sad to be reminded that he doesn’t actually talk in hip-hop, but he still had some interesting things to say.

First, he was struck by the fact that on this issue the G.O.P. has come to resemble a Soviet dictatorship — a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation.

This week’s Paris conference, I observed, seems like a giant Weight Watchers meeting. A bunch of national leaders get together and make some resolutions to cut their carbon emissions over the next few decades. You hope some sort of peer pressure will kick in and they will actually follow through.

I’m afraid Hamilton snorted.

The co-author of the Federalist papers is the opposite of naïve about human nature. He said the conference is nothing like a Weight Watchers meeting. Unlike weight loss, the pain in reducing carbon emissions is individual but the good is only achieved collectively.

You’re asking people to impose costs on themselves today for some future benefit they will never see. You’re asking developing countries to forswear growth now to compensate for a legacy of pollution from richer countries that they didn’t benefit from. You’re asking richer countries that are facing severe economic strain to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in “reparations” to India and such places that can go on and burn mountains of coal and take away American jobs. And you’re asking for all this top-down coercion to last a century, without any enforcement mechanism. Are the Chinese really going to police a local coal plant efficiently?

This is perfectly designed to ensure cheating. Already, the Chinese government made a grandiose climate change announcement but then was forced to admit that its country was burning 17 percent more coal than it had previously disclosed. The cheating will create a cycle of resentment that will dissolve any sense of common purpose.

I countered by pointing out that policy makers have come up with some clever ways to make carbon reductions more efficient, like cap and trade, permit trading and carbon taxing.

The former Treasury secretary pointed out that these ideas are good in theory but haven’t worked in reality. Cap and trade has not worked out so well in Europe. Over all, the Europeans have spent $280 billion on climate change with very little measurable impact on global temperatures. And as for carbon taxes, even if the U.S. imposed one on itself, it would have virtually no effect on the global climate.

Hamilton steered me to an article by James Manzi and Peter Wehner in his favorite magazine, National Affairs. The authors point out that according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the expected economic costs of unaddressed global warming over the next century are likely to be about 3 percent of world gross domestic product. This is a big, gradual problem, but not the sort of cataclysmic immediate threat that’s likely to lead people to suspend their immediate self-interest.

Well, I ventured, if you’re skeptical about our own policies, Mr. Founding Father, what would you do?

Look at what you’re already doing, he countered. The U.S. has the fastest rate of reduction of CO2 emissions of any major nation on earth, back to pre-1996 levels.

That’s in part because of fracking. Natural gas is replacing coal, and natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide.

The larger lesson is that innovation is the key. Green energy will beat dirty energy only when it makes technical and economic sense.

Hamilton reminded me that he often used government money to stoke innovation. Manzi and Wehner suggest that one of our great national science labs could work on geoengineering problems to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Another could investigate cogeneration and small-scale energy reduction systems. We could increase funding on battery and smart-grid research. If we move to mainly solar power, we’ll need much more efficient national transmission methods. Maybe there’s a partial answer in increased vegetation.

Hamilton pointed out that when America was just a bunch of scraggly colonies, he was already envisioning it as a great world power. He used government to incite, arouse, energize and stir up great enterprise. The global warming problem can be addressed, ineffectively, by global communiqués. Or, with the right government boost, it presents an opportunity to arouse and incite entrepreneurs, innovators and investors and foment a new technological revolution.

Sometimes like your country you got to be young, scrappy and hungry and not throw away your shot.

Solo Bobo

November 17, 2015

Oh, FSM have mercy on us all.  Bobo has extruded something titled “Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts” in which he babbles that the answer to ending religious violence will probably be found within religion itself.  In the comments “Joe Walters” from New Jersey had this to say:  “Does Mr Brooks have any suggestions on how to deal with the religious fundamentalists that are persecuting homosexuals, want women to return to a medieval role in the home and who deny modern science, believing fantastical ideas such as the earth being only six thousand years old.  I’m not talking about ISIS, though of course they want the same. I had in mind the Presidential candidates of the party that Mr Brooks supports.  If he had some ideas on how to deal with that crazy bunch of dangerous extremists we’d all like to hear them.”  So would we all, Joe, but don’t hold your breath…  Here’s Bobo:

It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.

But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.

The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.

Part of this is simply demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every nonreligious population in history has experienced demographic decline.

Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.

This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan.

Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.

Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.

The pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.

That’s what we saw in Paris last week.

Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.

The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.

The Bible is filled with sibling rivalries: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The Bible crystallizes the truth that people sometimes find themselves competing for parental love and even competing for God’s love.

Read simplistically, the Bible’s sibling rivalries seem merely like stories of victory or defeat — Isaac over Ishmael. But all three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.

Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.

Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.

The command is not just to be empathetic toward strangers, which is fragile. The command is to pursue sanctification, which involves struggle and sometimes conquering your selfish instincts. Moreover, God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments.

The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.

It may seem strange that in this century of technology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army — just a different example of how to believe, think and live.

Why not go on another $120,000 vacation, Bobo, and STFU for a while…  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/t-magazine/vacation-four-seasons-around-the-world.html)

Brooks, Cohen and Nocer

October 13, 2015

Oh, it is too, too, too rich for words.  Bobo is wringing his hands…  In “The Republicans’ Incompetence Caucus” he wails that the party’s capacity to govern has degraded over recent decades as the G.O.P. has become prisoner to its own bombastic rhetoric.  Poor, poor Bobo…  In the comments “Masud M.” from Tucson had this to say:  “If you’re searching for a culprit, please look into the mirror, Mr. Brooks. You’ve been one of the so-called “intellectual” enablers of the crazies. Go back and read some of your past articles: insulting President Obama on flimsy grounds, giving credit (where no credit was due) to the Republicans in the House and the Senate, supporting the Iraq invasion, claiming that the Iran deal was bad for the nation, promoting trickle-down economics… The crazies don’t have brains of their own, so one cannot really criticize them. The crazies listen to their “intellectual” leaders. You’ve been one of those leaders, and it’s shameful that you do not recognize this — and fail to apologize for your past sins. This would be a first step, Mr. Brooks, if you want the Republican Party (your Party) to return to some semblance of normalcy.”  Mr. Cohen considers “Obama’s Doctrine of Restraint” and says for Putin it’s clear where the weakness lies: in the White House.  Mr. Nocera takes a look at “Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Steve Jobs’ Con” and says the screenwriter says his new movie is not a biopic. So true. The film simply doesn’t understand its subject.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

The House Republican caucus is close to ungovernable these days. How did this situation come about?

This was not just the work of the Freedom Caucus or Ted Cruz or one month’s activity. The Republican Party’s capacity for effective self-governance degraded slowly, over the course of a long chain of rhetorical excesses, mental corruptions and philosophical betrayals. Basically, the party abandoned traditional conservatism for right-wing radicalism. Republicans came to see themselves as insurgents and revolutionaries, and every revolution tends toward anarchy and ends up devouring its own.

By traditional definitions, conservatism stands for intellectual humility, a belief in steady, incremental change, a preference for reform rather than revolution, a respect for hierarchy, precedence, balance and order, and a tone of voice that is prudent, measured and responsible. Conservatives of this disposition can be dull, but they know how to nurture and run institutions. They also see the nation as one organic whole. Citizens may fall into different classes and political factions, but they are still joined by chains of affection that command ultimate loyalty and love.

All of this has been overturned in dangerous parts of the Republican Party. Over the past 30 years, or at least since Rush Limbaugh came on the scene, the Republican rhetorical tone has grown ever more bombastic, hyperbolic and imbalanced. Public figures are prisoners of their own prose styles, and Republicans from Newt Gingrich through Ben Carson have become addicted to a crisis mentality. Civilization was always on the brink of collapse. Every setback, like the passage of Obamacare, became the ruination of the republic. Comparisons to Nazi Germany became a staple.

This produced a radical mind-set. Conservatives started talking about the Reagan “revolution,” the Gingrich “revolution.” Among people too ill educated to understand the different spheres, political practitioners adopted the mental habits of the entrepreneur. Everything had to be transformational and disruptive. Hierarchy and authority were equated with injustice. Self-expression became more valued than self-restraint and coalition building. A contempt for politics infested the Republican mind.

Politics is the process of making decisions amid diverse opinions. It involves conversation, calm deliberation, self-discipline, the capacity to listen to other points of view and balance valid but competing ideas and interests.

But this new Republican faction regards the messy business of politics as soiled and impure. Compromise is corruption. Inconvenient facts are ignored. Countrymen with different views are regarded as aliens. Political identity became a sort of ethnic identity, and any compromise was regarded as a blood betrayal.

A weird contradictory mentality replaced traditional conservatism. Republican radicals have contempt for politics, but they still believe that transformational political change can rescue the nation. Republicans developed a contempt for Washington and government, but they elected leaders who made the most lavish promises imaginable. Government would be reduced by a quarter! Shutdowns would happen! The nation would be saved by transformational change! As Steven Bilakovics writes in his book “Democracy Without Politics,” “even as we expect ever less ofdemocracy we apparently expect ever more from democracy.”

This anti-political political ethos produced elected leaders of jaw-dropping incompetence. Running a government is a craft, like carpentry. But the new Republican officials did not believe in government and so did not respect its traditions, its disciplines and its craftsmanship. They do not accept the hierarchical structures of authority inherent in political activity.

In his masterwork, “Politics as a Vocation,” Max Weber argues that the pre-eminent qualities for a politician are passion, a feeling of responsibility and a sense of proportion. A politician needs warm passion to impel action but a cool sense of responsibility and proportion to make careful decisions in a complex landscape.

If a politician lacks the quality of detachment — the ability to let the difficult facts of reality work their way into the mind — then, Weber argues, the politician ends up striving for the “boastful but entirely empty gesture.” His work “leads nowhere and is senseless.”

Welcome to Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and the Freedom Caucus.

Really, have we ever seen bumbling on this scale, people at once so cynical and so naïve, so willfully ignorant in using levers of power to produce some tangible if incremental good? These insurgents can’t even acknowledge democracy’s legitimacy — if you can’t persuade a majority of your colleagues, maybe you should accept their position. You might be wrong!

People who don’t accept democracy will be bad at conversation. They won’t respect tradition, institutions or precedent. These figures are masters at destruction but incompetent at construction.

These insurgents are incompetent at governing and unwilling to be governed. But they are not a spontaneous growth. It took a thousand small betrayals of conservatism to get to the dysfunction we see all around.

You can feel the panic…  My schadens are all very, very freuded.  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

One way to define Barack Obama’s foreign policy is as a Doctrine of Restraint. It is clear, not least to the Kremlin, that this president is skeptical of the efficacy of military force, wary of foreign interventions that may become long-term commitments, convinced the era of American-imposed solutions is over, and inclined to see the United States as less an indispensable power than an indispensable partner. He has, in effect, been talking down American power.

President Vladimir Putin has seized on this profound foreign policy shift in the White House. He has probed where he could, most conspicuously in Ukraine, and now in Syria. Obama may call this a form of Russian weakness. He may mock Putin’s forays as distractions from a plummeting Russian economy. But the fact remains that Putin has reasserted Russian power in the vacuum created by American retrenchment and appears determined to shape the outcome in Syria using means that Obama has chosen never to deploy. For Putin, it’s clear where the weakness lies: in the White House.

Russia’s Syrian foray may be overreach. It may fall into the category of the “stupid stuff” (read reckless intervention) Obama shuns. Quagmires can be Russian, too. But for now the initiative appears to lie in the Kremlin, with the White House as reactive power. Not since the end of the Cold War a quarter-century ago has Russia been as assertive or Washington as acquiescent.

Obama’s Doctrine of Restraint reflects circumstance and temperament. He was elected to lead a nation exhausted by the two longest and most expensive wars in its history. Iraq and Afghanistan consumed trillions without yielding victory. His priority was domestic: first recovery from the 2008 meltdown and then a more equitable and inclusive society. The real pivot was not to Asia but to home.

Besides, American power in the 21st century could not be what it was in the 20th, not with the Chinese economy quintupling in size since 1990. The president was intellectually persuaded of the need to redefine America’s foreign-policy heft in an interconnected world of more equal powers, and temperamentally inclined to prudence and diplomacy over force. Republican obstructionism and the politicization of foreign policy in a polarized Washington did not help him. American power, in his view, might still be dominant but could no longer be determinant.

As Obama put it to The New Republic in 2013, “I am more mindful probably than most of not only our incredible strengths and capabilities, but also our limitations.” After Iraq and Afghanistan, giant repositories of American frustration, who could blame him?

But when the most powerful nation on earth and chief underwriter of global security focuses on its limitations, others take note, perceiving new opportunity and new risk. Instability can become contagious. Unraveling can set in, as it has in the Middle East. The center cannot hold because there is none.

“I think Obama exaggerates the limits and underestimates the upside of American power, even if the trend is toward a more difficult environment for translating power and influence,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. “By doing so, he runs the risk of actually reinforcing the very trends that give him pause. Too often during his presidency the gap between ends and means has been our undoing.”

In Afghanistan, in Libya and most devastatingly in Syria, Obama has seemed beset by ambivalence: a surge undermined by a date certain for Afghan withdrawal; a lead-from-behind military campaign to oust Libya’s dictator with zero follow-up plan; a statement more than four years ago that “the time has come” for President Bashar al-Assad to “step aside” without any strategy to make that happen, and a “red line” on chemical weapons that was not upheld. All this has said to Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping that this is a time of wound-licking American incoherence.

Yet Obama does not lack courage. Nor is he unprepared to take risks. It required courage to conclude the Iran nuclear deal — a signal achievement arrived at in the face of a vitriolic cacophony from Israel and the Republican-controlled Congress. It took courage to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with Cuba. The successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden was fraught with risk. His foreign policy has delivered in significant areas. America has wound down its wars. The home pivot has yielded a revived economy (at least for some) and given all Americans access to health insurance.

Yet the cost of the Doctrine of Restraint has been very high. How high we do not yet know, but the world is more dangerous than in recent memory. Obama’s skepticism about American power, his readiness to disengage from Europe and his catastrophic tiptoeing on Syria have left the Middle East in generational conflict and fracture, Europe unstable and Putin strutting the stage. Where this rudderless reality is likely to lead I will examine in my next column.

Oh, I can hardly wait.  No doubt we’ll have some saber rattling and dick swinging.  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

When “The Social Network” came out in 2010, I wrote a column praising it for the way it captured the obsessional quality that marks great entrepreneurs.

The movie, you’ll recall, was about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook. The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin, who won an Oscar for it. I knew that Sorkin had taken generous liberties with the facts, but hey, isn’t that what always happens when the movies adapt a true story?

Although I wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about Facebook’s origins, I nonetheless argued that the insights of “The Social Network” into the culture of Silicon Valley trumped any niggling facts Sorkin might have ignored or distorted.

But now that I’ve seen Sorkin’s latest treatment of a Silicon Valley icon — Steve Jobs — I’m revising that opinion. Unlike Zuckerberg, Jobs is somebody I followed closely for much of my career, even spending a week in the mid-1980s embedded at NeXT, the company Jobs founded after being tossed out of Apple in 1985. And although “Steve Jobs,” the movie, which opened in a handful of theaters on Friday, is highly entertaining, what struck me most was how little it had to do with the flesh and blood Steve Jobs.

Sorkin has arranged the movie like a three-act play, building it around three product launches, for the Macintosh computer in 1984, the NeXT computer in 1988 and the iMac in 1998, after Jobs returned to Apple.

Although this structure necessitates inventing virtually every moment in the film out of whole cloth, that’s not the real problem. The structure would be fine if, within its contours, it had conveyed the complicated reality of Steve Jobs.

But it doesn’t. In ways both large and small, Sorkin — as well as Michael Fassbender, the actor who plays Jobs — has failed to capture him in any meaningful sense. Fassbender exhibits none of Jobs’s many youthful mannerisms, and uses none of his oft-repeated phrases, like “really, really neat” when he liked something, or “bozo” for people he didn’t think measured up. Jobs as a young man was surprisingly emotional — that’s missing.

There are moments in the film, like the big “reconciliation” scene with his out-of-wedlock daughter, Lisa, that are almost offensively in opposition to the truth. (Although Jobs’s relationship with Lisa could be volatile at times, she had in fact lived with him and his family all through high school.)

More important, the film simply doesn’t understand who he was and why he was successful.

For instance, one character mentions Jobs’s ability to create a “reality distortion field.” But we never see the charismatic man who could convince people that the sky was green instead of blue. Especially in the NeXT section, Sorkin’s Jobs is a cynic who knows his product will fail, rather than the dreamer he was, certain his overpriced NeXT machine will “change the world.” Most important, Sorkin fails to convey Jobs’s unmatched ability to draw talented people to him, and get them to produce their best work.

As it turns out, Sorkin is quite proud of his disregard for facts. “What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake?” he told New York magazine around the time “The Social Network” came out. The way he sees it, he is no mere screenwriter; rather, he’s an artist who can’t be bound by the events of a person’s life — even when he’s writing a movie about that person.

“Art isn’t about what happened,” he said in that interview. “And the properties of people and the properties of ‘characters’ are two completely different things.”

The problem is that Steve Jobs isn’t just a “character”; he was a real person who lived a real life. Tom Mallon, who writes wonderful historical fiction about politics, including books about Watergate, and most recently, Ronald Reagan, told me that he thought it was important, even in his fiction, not to rewrite the public record, and to try to capture the essence of the real person he is writing about, even though he is inventing thoughts and scenes and dialogue.

“If you deviate too much from the actual historical record,” he said, “the illusion is going to collapse.” Mallon added, “If the real Steve Jobs is interesting enough to make a movie about, why go and create another character that the filmmakers presumably find more interesting?”

Tim Cook, Apple’s current chief executive, has decried the recent spate of Jobs movies as “opportunistic.” In the case of “Steve Jobs,” at least, that strikes me as exactly right. Sorkin and his fellow moviemakers are taking advantage of the feelings people have for the real Steve Jobs to sell tickets, yet the Steve Jobs he created is a complete figment of his imagination. It’s a con.

In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Sorkin insisted that “Steve Jobs” was “not a biopic.” He added, “I’m not quite sure what to call it.”

That’s easy. Fiction.

Friedman and Bruni

September 30, 2015

In “Syria, Obama and Putin” TMOW says it’s better to be wary of getting involved in Syria than rushing to do so.  What a surprise — he’s not immediately banging on his little tin war drum.  Mr. Bruni has written a disgraceful POS called “Hillary Clinton’s Pajama Party” in which he channels MoDo and hisses that with Lena Dunham, the candidate gives us a fresh glimpse of her labored spontaneity.  In the comments “Rosa” from CA had this to say:  “It was your choice to write this silly article about pajamas and penises. Too bad you wasted the space. But I’m getting used to wasted space when it comes to the Times and Clinton. Whether it is Benghazi or emails, I am so beyond caring. I no longer listen to you. No matter what it is, she won’t get a fair shake and I won’t get any information on what she REALLY is doing…. unless I go elsewhere, and I do.  Now, here’s a real news flash for you: It seems that Kevin McCarthy may not be a shoo-in. The Hard Right Crazies are working to get Trey Gowdy to replace Boehner. You know Gowdy: the one who’s run the Benghazi Committee for years. He hates her with a passion. Swears he’ll get her on something. I believe he has a penis, too. You can write about him. You can even write about him in glowing terms like you and the Times do on all those Klowns.  Don’t become as irrelevant as Maureen Dowd, Frank.”  Amen, sister.  Here’s TMOW:

Your Honor, I rise again in defense of President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria.

Obama has been right in his ambivalence about getting deeply involved in Syria. But he’s never had the courage of his own ambivalence to spell out his reasoning to the American people. He keeps letting himself get pummeled into doing and saying things that his gut tells him won’t work, so he gets the worst of all worlds: His rhetoric exceeds the policy, and the policy doesn’t work.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican critics totally lack the wisdom of our own experience. They blithely advocate “fire, ready, aim” in Syria without any reason to believe their approach will work there any better than it did for us in Iraq or Libya. People who don’t know how to fix inner-city Baltimore think they know how to rescue downtown Aleppo — from the air!

Personally, I’ll take the leader who lacks the courage of his own ambivalence over the critics who lack the wisdom of their own experience. But ambivalence is not a license to do nothing. We can do things that make a difference, but only if we look at our enemies and allies in Syria with clear eyes.

For instance, today’s reigning cliché is that the wily fox, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, has once again outmaneuvered the flat-footed Americans, by deploying some troops, planes and tanks to Syria to buttress the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and to fight the Islamic State forces threatening him. If only we had a president who was so daring, so tough, so smart.

Really? Well think about this: Let’s say the U.S. did nothing right now, and just let Putin start bombing ISIS and bolstering Assad. How long before every Sunni Muslim in the Middle East, not to mention every jihadist, has Putin’s picture in a bull’s eye on his cellphone?

The Sunni Muslims are the vast majority in Syria. They are the dominant sect in the Arab world. Putin and Russia would be seen as going all-in to protect Assad, a pro-Iranian, Alawite/Shiite genocidal war criminal. Putin would alienate the entire Sunni Muslim world, including Russian Muslims.

Moreover, let’s say by some miracle the Russians defeat ISIS. The only way to keep them defeated is by replacing them with moderate Sunnis. Which moderate Sunnis are going to align with Russia while Putin is seen as the prime defender of the barrel-bombing murderer of more Sunnis than anyone on the planet, Bashar al-Assad?

Putin stupidly went into Syria looking for a cheap sugar high to show his people that Russia is still a world power. Well, now he’s up a tree. Obama and John Kerry should just leave him up there for a month — him and Assad, fighting ISIS alone — and watch him become public enemy No. 1 in the Sunni Muslim world. “Yo, Vladimir, how’s that working for you?”

The only way Putin can get down from that tree is with our help in forging a political solution in Syria. And that only happens if the Russians and the Iranians force Assad — after a transition — to step down and leave the country, in return for the opposition agreeing to protect the basic safety and interests of Assad’s Alawite community, and both sides welcoming an international force on the ground to guarantee the deal.

But to get there we need to size our rhetoric with our interests in Syria as well. Our interests right now are to eliminate or contain the two biggest metastasizing threats: ISIS — whose growth can threaten the islands of decency in the region like Lebanon, the Kurds and Jordan — and the tragedy of Syrian refugees, whose numbers are growing so large they are swamping Lebanon and Jordan and, if they continue, could destabilize the European Union, our vital partner in the world.

If we want something better — multisectarian democracy in Syria soon — we would have to go in and build it ourselves. The notion that it would only take arming more Syrian moderates is insane.

During the weekend The Times reported that “nearly 30,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Iraq and Syria from more than 100 countries since 2011.” So 30,000 people have gone to Syria to join ISIS to promote jihad and a caliphate. How many Arabs and Muslims have walked to Syria to promote multisectarian democracy? Apparently zero.

Why do we have to search for moderates like a man with a dowsing rod looking for water, and then train them, while no one has to train the jihadists, who flock there? It’s because the jihadists are in the grip of ideals, albeit warped ones. There is no critical mass of Syrian moderates in the grip of ideals; they will fight for their own homes and families, but not for an abstract ideal like democracy. We try to make up for that with military “training,” but it never works.

Are there real democrats among the Syrian opposition? You bet, but not enough, not with the organization, motivation and ruthlessness of their opponents.

Everyone wants an immaculate intervention in Syria, one where you look like you’re doing something, but without the political cost of putting troops on the ground or having to make unpleasant compromises with unsavory people. There is no such option.

I think Putin’s rash rush into Syria may in the end make him more in need of a deal, or at least a lasting cease-fire, that stops the refugee flows. If we can do that, for now, we will have done a lot.

And now here’s Mr. Bruni’s disgraceful offering:

She had a law career, an ambitious agenda as first lady, an industrious stint in the Senate, those years and miles as secretary of state.

And it has come to this: In a bid to seem less stuffy and turn the page on a beleaguered (yet again) presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton is chatting with Lena Dunham about the singer Lenny Kravitz’s penis.

You can watch the video yourself. It’s a jokey promotion for an interview of Clinton just published in a new newsletter that Dunham is putting out. You can also see a comedic sketch of Dunham’s arrival at Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn and the make-believe refusal of a Clinton gatekeeper to let her in. There’s even a cameo by Amy Schumer.

The interview itself covers Clinton’s biography and some serious terrain, including feminism and the relationship between African-Americans and the police.

But it’s in large part a Dunham-Clinton love-in, a pajama party minus the pajamas, ostensibly in keeping with the Clinton campaign’s recent pledge to roll out a warmer, funnier version of the candidate. I’ve lost count of which version we’re on.

In the promotional video, Clinton kids that because Dunham’s newsletter and the website associated with it are called Lenny, she half expected that the person coming to question her might be Kravitz.

Dunham then mentions some viral footage of a Kravitz wardrobe malfunction: “His stuff fell out of his pants.”

Clinton feigns fascination. “I’ll look for that,” she says.

I blame us in part. For years we’ve demanded that she show us something more raw, that she weep or bleed or chirp or quip, that a policy wonk isn’t enough, that a résumé is only the start.

We’ve reminded her of how nimbly her husband pivoted from noonday speech to late-night saxophone. We’ve insisted that our presidents and would-be presidents not only inspire but also divert us. And we’ve pumped up the scandals, ratcheting up the pressure on her to feed us distractions.

But still I’m baffled. How can her response to charges that she’s too packaged and calculating be this packaged and calculated? And to counter her image as entrenched political royalty, why would she enlist stars whose presence merely emphasizes her pull with, and membership in, the glittery world of celebrity?

“Insane,” said one Democratic operative when I sought his reaction.

“It’s a transparent and ham-handed attempt to appeal to a niche audience that the campaign has identified as a critical target,” he added, referring to progressive young women. “But if they’re not already getting Lena Dunham and her cohorts, they’re in even bigger trouble than I thought.”

I think that Clinton is actually in less trouble than we sometimes speculate. She remains the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination.

But her campaign so far is an unimpressive dress rehearsal for the general election. It’s devoid of soul and sweep, a series of labored gestures and precisely staked positions. Constituency by constituency, leftward adjustment by leftward adjustment, she and her aides slog and muscle their way forward.

And they contradict the adage that a politician campaigns in poetry and governs in prose. Clinton campaigns in something more like a PowerPoint presentation. Prose would be an upgrade. Poetry is light years away.

That’s what the Democratic strategist David Axelrod was getting at when, about two weeks ago, he tweeted: “It’s still HRC’s to lose, despite new polls. But it’s hard to inspire w/grinding, tactical race. ‘Hillary: Live With It’ is no rallying cry!”

No it isn’t, not even if Dunham and Schumer put funny faces on it.

It’s to Dunham’s shrewd credit that she grabbed a piece of the action. It serves her well.

But for Clinton? It’s a contrivance.

Earlier this month, The Times’s Amy Chozick interviewed her aides and reported that there would be “new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.”

An effort at spontaneity: that’s the prompt for sitting down with Dunham — who assures Clinton that she’s a fashion icon and implores her to wear dresses that show her shoulders — and it’s the oxymoronic story of Clinton’s political life.

She is routinely reintroducing herself, forever trumpeting the real Hillary this time, constantly promising the unguarded Hillary at long last.

But the real Hillary has always been there, the thread running through all the changes in costumes and hairstyles and campaign events.

She is fiercely intelligent but, yes, wildly defensive. She does her homework with uncommon diligence and earnestness but can be a dud on the stump. She’s impressively controlled. She’s distressingly controlling.

There’s more than enough good in that mix for voters to make peace with it. But first Clinton has to make peace with it herself.

He should be ashamed of himself.  Actually, he should write an apology and then STFU about politics and go back to being a restaurant reviewer.

Brooks and Nocera

September 29, 2015

Bobo, FSM help us, has decided to grapple with “The Prison Problem.”  He gurgles that the war on drugs and sentencing laws are often blamed for packed cells, but that explanation’s wrong, and the true causes are even harder to reverse.  Of course there’s one cause that Bobo didn’t bother to factor into his babbling.  In the comments “Mark” from Cheboyagen, MI asks the blindingly obvious question:  “Doesn’t the for profit prison system bear mentioning?”  Not if you’re Bobo, it doesn’t.  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Is Donald Trump Serious?”  He says The Donald says yes, but his positions on the issues suggest otherwise.  Here’s Bobo:

Pretty much everybody from Barack Obama to Carly Fiorina seems to agree that far too many Americans are stuck behind bars. And pretty much everybody seems to have the same explanation for how this destructive era of mass incarceration came about.

First, the war on drugs got out of control, meaning that many nonviolent people wound up in prison. Second, mandatory-minimum sentencing laws led to a throw-away-the-key culture, with long, cruel and pointlessly destructive prison terms.

It’s true that mass incarceration is a horrific problem. Back in the 1970s the increase in incarceration did help reduce the crime rate, maybe accounting for a third of the drop. But today’s incarceration levels do little to deter crime while they do much to rip up families, increase racial disparities and destroy lives.

The popular explanation for how we got here, however, seems to be largely wrong, and most of the policy responses flowing from it may therefore be inappropriate.

The drug war is not even close to being the primary driver behind the sharp rise in incarceration. About 90 percent of America’s prisoners are held in state institutions. Only 17 percent of these inmates are in for a drug-related offense, or less than one in five.

Moreover, the share of people imprisoned for drug offenses is dropping sharply, down by 22 percent between 2006 and 2011. Writing in Slate, Leon Neyfakh emphasized that if you released every drug offender from state prison today, you’d reduce the population only to 1.2 million from 1.5 million.

The war on drugs does not explain the rocketing rates of incarceration, and ending that war, wise or not, will not solve this problem.

The mandatory-minimum theory is also problematic. Experts differ on this, but some of the most sophisticated work with the best data sets has been done by John Pfaff of Fordham Law School. When I spoke with Pfaff on Monday I found him to be wonderfully objective, nonideological and data-driven.

His research suggests that while it’s true that lawmakers passed a lot of measures calling for long prison sentences, if you look at how much time inmates actually served, not much has changed over the past few decades. Roughly half of all prisoners have prison terms in the range of two to three years, and only 10 percent serve more than seven years. The laws look punitive, but the time served hasn’t increased, and so harsh laws are not the main driver behind mass incarceration, either.

So what does explain it? Pfaff’s theory is that it’s the prosecutors. District attorneys and their assistants have gotten a lot more aggressive in bringing felony charges. Twenty years ago they brought felony charges against about one in three arrestees. Now it’s something like two in three. That produces a lot more plea bargains and a lot more prison terms.

I asked Pfaff why prosecutors are more aggressive. He’s heard theories. Maybe they are more political and they want to show toughness to raise their profile to impress voters if they run for future office. Maybe the police are bringing stronger cases. Additionally, prosecutors are usually paid by the county but prisons by the state, so prosecutors tend not to have to worry about the financial costs of what they do.

Pfaff says there’s little evidence so far to prove any of these theories, since the prosecutorial world is largely a black box. He also points out that we have a radically decentralized array of prosecutors, with some elected and some appointed. Changing their behavior cannot be done with one quick fix.

Some politicians and activists suggest that solving this problem will be easy — just release the pot smokers and the low-level dealers. In reality, reducing mass incarceration means releasing a lot of once-violent offenders. That may be the right thing to do in individual cases, but it’s a knotty problem.

Two final points. Everybody is railing against the political establishment and experts and experienced politicians. But social problems are invariably more complex than they look. The obvious explanation for most problems is often wrong. It takes experience and craftsmanship to design policies that grapple with the true complexity of reality.

Finally, recategorizing a problem doesn’t solve it. In the 1970s, we let a lot of people out of mental institutions. Over the next decades we put a lot of people into prisons. But the share of people kept out of circulation has been strangely continuous. In the real world, crime, lack of education, mental health issues, family breakdown and economic hopelessness are all intertwined.

Changing prosecutor behavior might be a start. Lifting the spirits of inmates, as described in the outstanding Atlantic online video “Angola for Life,” can also help. But the fundamental situation won’t be altered without a comprehensive surge, unless we flood the zone with economic, familial, psychological and social repair.

Now here’s Mr. Nocera:

As part of his ongoing effort to make a mockery of the American political process, Donald Trump released his tax plan on Monday morning. This is the third official policy position he has laid out in the three and a half months he’s been running for president.

His opening salvo, of course, was his absurd proposal to round up the 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country and deport them, en masse, while also building an impenetrable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’ll actually be a wall that will look good,” he actually told Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes” on Sunday night.

His second position paper, which hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves, is a no-holds-barred defense of the Second Amendment that the National Rifle Association could have written. Among other things, Trump says that we don’t need expanded background checks, and that concealed carry permits — he has one himself, in case you were wondering — should be valid in all 50 states, just like a driver’s license.

His tax plan, at least, is not completely irrational. Then again, “a broken clock is right twice a day,” as Edward Kleinbard, a law professor and tax expert at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, puts it.

Kleinbard told me he likes the fact that Trump wants to tax profits that companies earn abroad at the time they are earned, just like domestic profits. That would help end the practice of American companies parking their profits overseas, because they are now taxed only upon repatriation. (Trump also wants to impose a one-time tax on those overseas profits, which would raise some $200 billion.)

A second tax expert I spoke to, Robert Willens, noted that Trump’s plan would end corporate “inversions,” whereby companies list an overseas “headquarters” to take advantage of another country’s lower tax rate. The reason, though, is that Trump’s proposed 15 percent corporate tax rate is so low that companies wouldn’t need to leave to enjoy drastically lower taxes.

Trump says his plan will also prevent American companies from moving jobs overseas. But it won’t. Companies might move their headquarters back to the U.S., but the main job sources — factories — will remain in countries that have lower labor costs, not lower taxes. And neither Trump nor anyone else running for president can fix that.

What is irrational is Trump’s belief that he can cut corporate taxes from 35 to 15 percent, can cut the top income tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent, can allow millions of additional Americans to go untaxed completely (they’ll be able to fill out a form that says “I win”), can abolish the estate tax and can lower the maximum capital gains tax from 23.8 percent to 20 percent, and still be “revenue neutral.”

Where will the revenue come from to make up for those tax cuts? It’s not going to come from whacking the “hedge fund guys,” as he likes to call them. Though Trump proposes to end their “carried interest” tax break, his new maximum individual rate of 25 percent means their tax burden would barely budge. And though he claims he will get rid of various unspecified deductions, he didn’t dare touch the one individual deduction that matters: the mortgage interest deduction. Somebody must have told him that that would cost him in the polls.

Like almost everything else about the Trump campaign, his tax plan is hard to take seriously. (To be fair, most of the tax plans put forth by his Republican rivals are hard to take seriously.) During the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump told Pelley that he would force the Chinese to “do something” about North Korea’s nuclear program — while also preventing them from devaluing their currency! — that he would get rid of Obamacare — while instituting universal coverage! — and that he was on more magazine covers than “almost any supermodel.”

You could see Pelley struggling to keep a straight face.

I wonder, in fact, whether even now Trump is a serious candidate, or whether this is all a giant publicity ploy. Once a real developer, Trump is largely a licenser today; the more famous he becomes, the more he can charge to slap his name on buildings or perfume or men’s suits.

I’m not alone in wondering this, of course. Several Republican consultants I spoke to openly questioned whether Trump is in it for the long haul. “You would see him spending a lot more money if he were putting together a true national infrastructure,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist.

There’s one other thing. All his life, Trump has had a deep need to be perceived as a “winner.” He always has to be perceived coming out on top. That’s why, ultimately, I don’t think he’ll ever put himself at the mercy of actual voters in a primary. To do so is to risk losing. And everyone will know it.

He’ll be out before Iowa. You read it here first.

From your pixels to the FSM’s noodly appendage…

Brooks and Krugman

June 5, 2015

In “The Separation Strategy on Iraq” Bobo has the cojones to whine that it’s time to shift course on Iraq. He gurgles that the current approach from the Obama administration isn’t working.  In the comments “uwteacher” from Colorado (among many others) pointed something out to Bobo:  “Once more, Mr. Brooks and this time pay attention. The departure date was set by Bush, not Obama. The Iraq government was not willing to extend the stay of US forces under terms that were acceptable to the US.”  In “Lone Star Stumble” Prof. Krugman asks a question:  Remember how Texas was supposed to have the economy that couldn’t falter?  Here’s Bobo:

In 2006, Joe Biden, Les Gelb and many others proposed plans to decentralize power in Iraq. Biden, then a United States senator from Delaware, Gelb and others recognized that Iraqi society was fracturing into sectarian blocs. They believed that governing institutions should reflect the fundamental loyalties on the ground. According to the Biden plan, the central Iraqi government would still have performed a few important tasks, but many other powers would have been devolved to regional governments in the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish areas.

The administration of George W. Bush rejected that federalist approach and instead bet on a Baghdad-centric plan. The Iraqi prime minister at the time, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and his band of Shiite supremacists enflamed sectarian tensions even more, consolidated power, excluded rivals, alienated the Sunnis and Kurds and drove parts of the opposition into armed insurrection.

The Obama administration helped oust Maliki and replace him with a group of more moderate and responsible leaders. But that approach is still centralized and Baghdad-focused. The results are nearly as bad. The Sunnis continue to feel excluded and oppressed. Faith in national institutions has collapsed. Sectarian lines are hardening. Over the last several years, the number of people who tell pollsters that they are Iraqis first and foremost has plummeted.

Vastly outnumbered fighters for the Islamic State keep beating the Iraqi Army in places like Ramadi because the ISIS terrorists believe in their lunatic philosophy while the Iraqi soldiers no longer believe in their own leadership and are not willing to risk their lives for a dysfunctional, centralized state.

This attempt to impose top-down solutions, combined with President Obama’s too-fast withdrawal from Iraq, has contributed to the fertile conditions for the rise of ISIS. Obama properly vowed to eradicate this terrorist force, but the U.S. is failing to do so.

That’s largely because, mind-bogglingly, the Iraqi government has lost the battle over the hearts and minds to a group of savage, beheading, murderous thugs. As Anne Barnard and Tim Arango reported in The Times on Thursday, ISIS is hijacking legitimate Sunni grievances. Many Sunnis would apparently rather be ruled by their own kind, even if they are barbaric, than by Shiites, who rob them of their dignity.

The United States is now in the absurd position of being in a de facto alliance with Iranian-backed Shiite militias. Up until now, these militias have plowed through Sunni territory “liberating” villages from ISIS and then, often enough, proceeding to execute the local leaders, loot the property and destroy the towns.

The Obama administration is hoping that these militias will restrain themselves and listen to the central authority. But that would be to defy all recent Iraqi history. The more likely scenario is that the militias will occasionally beat ISIS on a tactical level while making the larger climate even worse.

The centralizing strategy has been a failure. Instead of fostering cooperation, efforts to bring Sunni and Shiite elites together have only rubbed at raw wounds, exacerbated tensions and accelerated the slide toward a regional confrontation. ISIS is now targeting Shiite pilgrims in Saudi Arabia in order to enflame that country and widen the religious war that is brewing across the region.

Iran is sponsoring terror armies across the region and trying to turn Shiite Iraq into a satellite state.

A brutalizing dynamic is now firmly in place: Sectarian tension radicalizes the leaderships on both the Sunni and Shiite sides. These radicalized leaders incite bigger and uglier confrontations.

Maybe it’s time to shift course.

America’s goal should be to help lower sectarian temperatures so that eventually a moderating dynamic replaces the current brutalizing one. The grand strategy should be to help the two sides separate as much as possible while containing the radicals on each side. The tactic should be devolution. Give as much local control to different groups in different nations. Let them run their own affairs as much as possible. Encourage them to create space between the sectarian populations so that hatreds can cool.

This was the core logic of the Biden/Gelb style decentralization plan, and it is still the most promising logic today.

The best objection has always been that the geography is not so neat. Populations are intermingled. If decentralization gets out of control and national boundaries are erased, then you could see ferocious wars over resources and national spoils.

That’s all true, but separation and containment are still the least terrible of the bad options. The U.S. could begin by arming Iraqi Sunnis directly and helping Sunnis take back their own homeland from the terrorists, with the assurance that they could actually run the place once they retook it.

Central politicians love centralization. But this is the wrong recipe for an exploding Middle East.

He’s so effing tiresome…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember the Texas economic miracle? In 2012, it was one of the three main arguments from then-Gov. Rick Perry about why he should be president, along with his strong support from the religious right and something else I can’t remember (sorry, couldn’t help myself). More broadly, conservatives have long held Texas up as a supposed demonstration that low taxes on the rich and harsh treatment of the poor are the keys to prosperity.

So it’s interesting to note that Texas is looking a lot less miraculous lately than it used to. To be fair, we’re talking about a modest stumble, not a collapse. Still, events in Texas and other states — notably Kansas and California — are providing yet another object demonstration that the tax-cut obsession that dominates the modern Republican Party is all wrong.

The facts: For many years, economic growth in Texas has consistently outpaced growth in the rest of America. But that long run ended in 2015, with employment growth in Texas dropping well below the national average and a fall in leading indicators pointing to a further slowdown ahead. In most states, this slowdown would be no big deal; occasional underperformance is just a fact of life. But everything is bigger in Texas, including inflated expectations, so the slowdown has come as something of a shock.

Now, there’s no mystery about what is happening: It’s all about the hydrocarbons. Texans like to point out that their state’s economy is a lot more diversified than it was in J.R. Ewing’s day, and they’re right. But Texas still has a disproportionate share of the U.S. oil and gas industry, and it benefited far more than most other states from the fracking boom. By my estimates, about half the energy-related jobs created by that boom since it began in the middle of the last decade were in Texas, and this extractive-sector windfall accounted for about a third of the difference between growth in Texas and growth in the rest of the country.

What about the other two-thirds? Like the rest of the Sunbelt, Texas is still benefiting from the long southward shift of America’s population that began with the coming of widespread air-conditioning; average January temperature remains a powerful predictor of regional growth. Texas also attracts new residents with its permissive land-use policies, which have kept housing cheap.

Now one of the three big drivers of Texas growth has gone into reverse, as low world oil prices are bringing the fracking boom to a screeching halt. Hey, things like that happen to every state now and then.

But Texas wasn’t supposed to be like other states. It was supposed to be the shining exemplar of the economic payoff to reverse Robin-Hood economics. So its recent disappointments hit the right-wing cause hard — especially coming on the heels of the Kansas debacle.

For those who haven’t been following the Kansas story, in 2012, Sam Brownback, the state’s hard-right governor, pushed through large tax cuts that would, he promised, lead to rapid economic growth with little, if any, loss of revenue. But the promised boom never materialized, while big budget deficits did.

And, meanwhile, there’s California, long mocked by the right as an economy doomed by its liberal politics. Not so much, it turns out: The budget is back in surplus in part because the emergence of a Democratic supermajority finally made it possible to enact tax increases, and the state is experiencing a solid recovery.

The states, Louis Brandeis famously declared, are the laboratories of democracy. In fact, Mr. Brownback himself described his plan as an “experiment” that would demonstrate the truth of his economic doctrine. What it actually did, however, was demonstrate the opposite — and much the same message is coming from other laboratories, from the stumble in Texas to the comeback in California.

Will anyone on the right take heed? Probably not. Unlike real experimenters, Mr. Brownback wasn’t willing to take no for an answer, whatever happened, and the same is true for just about everyone on his side of the political divide. Or to put it another way, belief that tax cuts are a universal elixir that cures all economic ills is the ultimate zombie idea — one that should have died long ago in the face of the facts, but just keeps shambling along. Nothing that has happened in the past quartercentury has supported tax-cut mania, yet the doctrine’s hold on the Republican Party is stronger than ever. It would be foolish to expect recent events to make much difference.

Still, the spectacle of the Texas economy coming back to earth, and Kansas sliding over the edge should at the very least make right-wing bombast ring hollow, in the general election if not in the primary. And someday, maybe, even conservatives will once again become willing to look at the facts.

Really?  Not gonna happen.  As we all know, facts are known to have a liberal bias.

Brooks and Krugman

April 24, 2015

In “Love and Merit” Bobo babbles that parenting in America is experiencing a silent epidemic of conditional love.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “From what muck-filled pond does David Brooks dredge these ideas? Not that there isn’t precedent– Brooks always spits on the ground when he mentions meritocracy, but this is taking things a bit too far. It’s important to realize that Brooks despises meritocracy because it’s a form of liberalism. It suggests that anyone can rise to power, which might threaten the aristocracy or the plutocracy or some other less egalitarian –ocracy that he thinks should rightly run the show.”  Also in the comments “Glenn Cheney” from Hanover, CT says “I wish someone would pay me to promulgate my presumptions and unjustified generalizations as if they were facts.”  Prof. Krugman, in “Zombies of 2016,” says the Republican presidential hopefuls are resurrecting long-refuted ideas as if they actually worked.  Here’s Bobo:

There are two great defining features of child-rearing today. First, children are now praised to an unprecedented degree. As Dorothy Parker once joked, American children aren’t raised; they are incited. They are given food, shelter and applause. That’s a thousand times more true today. Children are incessantly told how special they are.

The second defining feature is that children are honed to an unprecedented degree. The meritocracy is more competitive than ever before. Parents are more anxious about their kids getting into good colleges and onto good career paths. Parents spend much more time than in past generations investing in their children’s skills and résumés and driving them to practices and rehearsals.

These two great trends — greater praise and greater honing — combine in intense ways. Children are bathed in love, but it is often directional love. Parents shower their kids with affection, but it is meritocratic affection. It is intermingled with the desire to help their children achieve worldly success.

Very frequently it is manipulative. Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement. Parents glow with extra fervor when their child studies hard, practices hard, wins first place, gets into a prestigious college.

This sort of love is merit based. It is not simply: I love you. It is, I love you when you stay on my balance beam. I shower you with praise and care when you’re on my beam.

The wolf of conditional love is lurking in these homes. The parents don’t perceive this; they feel they love their children in all circumstances. But the children often perceive things differently.

Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.

These children begin to assume that this merit-tangled love is the natural order of the universe. The tiny glances of approval and disapproval are built into the fabric of communication so deep that they flow under the level of awareness. But they generate enormous internal pressure, the assumption that it is necessary to behave in a certain way to be worthy of love — to be self-worthy. The shadowy presence of conditional love produces a fear, the fear that there is no utterly safe love; there is no completely secure place where young people can be utterly honest and themselves.

On the one hand, many of the parents in these families are extremely close to their children. They communicate constantly. But the whole situation is fraught. These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.

Meanwhile, children who are uncertain of their parents’ love develop a voracious hunger for it. This conditional love is like an acid that dissolves children’s internal criteria to make their own decisions about their own colleges, majors and careers. At key decision-points, they unconsciously imagine how their parents will react. They guide their lives by these imagined reactions and respond with hair-trigger sensitivity to any possibility of coldness or distancing.

These children tell their parents those things that will elicit praise and hide the parts of their lives that won’t. Studies by Avi Assor, Guy Roth and Edward L. Deci suggest that children who receive conditional love often do better in the short run. They can be model students. But they suffer in the long run. They come to resent their parents. They are so influenced by fear that they become risk averse. They lose a sense of agency. They feel driven by internalized pressures more than by real freedom of choice. They feel less worthy as adults.

Parents two generations ago were much more likely to say that they expected their children to be more obedient than parents today. But this desire for obedience hasn’t gone away; it’s just gone underground. Parents are less likely to demand obedience with explicit rules and lectures. But they are more likely to use love as a tool to exercise control.

The culture of the meritocracy is incredibly powerful. Parents desperately want happiness for their children and naturally want to steer them toward success in every way they can. But the pressures of the meritocracy can sometimes put this love on a false basis. The meritocracy is based on earned success. It is based on talent and achievement. But parental love is supposed to be oblivious to achievement. It’s meant to be an unconditional support — a gift that cannot be bought and cannot be earned. It sits outside the logic of the meritocracy, the closest humans come to grace.

This is the sort of crap you come up with when you’re wandering around your vast spaces for entertaining.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week, a zombie went to New Hampshire and staked its claim to the Republican presidential nomination. Well, O.K., it was actually Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey. But it’s pretty much the same thing.

You see, Mr. Christie gave a speech in which he tried to position himself as a tough-minded fiscal realist. In fact, however, his supposedly tough-minded policy idea was a classic zombie — an idea that should have died long ago in the face of evidence that undermines its basic premise, but somehow just keeps shambling along.

But let us not be too harsh on Mr. Christie. A deep attachment to long-refuted ideas seems to be required of all prominent Republicans. Whoever finally gets the nomination for 2016 will have multiple zombies as his running mates.

Start with Mr. Christie, who thought he was being smart and brave by proposing that we raise the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare to 69. Doesn’t this make sense now that Americans are living longer?

No, it doesn’t. This whole line of argument should have died in 2007, when the Social Security Administration issued a report showing that almost allthe rise in life expectancy has taken place among the affluent. The bottom half of workers, who are precisely the Americans who rely on Social Security most, have seen their life expectancy at age 65 rise only a bit more than a year since the 1970s. Furthermore, while lawyers and politicians may consider working into their late 60s no hardship, things look somewhat different to ordinary workers, many of whom still have to perform manual labor.

And while raising the retirement age would impose a great deal of hardship, it would save remarkably little money. In fact, a 2013 report from the Congressional Budget Office found that raising the Medicare age would save almost no money at all.

But Mr. Christie — like Jeb Bush, who quickly echoed his proposal — evidently knows none of this. The zombie ideas have eaten his brain.

And there are plenty of other zombies out there. Consider, for example, the zombification of the debate over health reform.

Before the Affordable Care Act went fully into effect, conservatives made a series of dire predictions about what would happen when it did. It would actually reduce the number of Americans with health insurance; it would lead to “rate shock,” as premiums soared; it would cost the government far more than projected, and blow up the deficit; it would be a huge job-destroyer.

In reality, the act has produced a dramatic drop in the number of uninsured adults; premiums have grown much more slowly than in the years before reform; the law’s cost is coming in well below projections; and 2014, the first year of full implementation, also had the best job growth since 1999.

So how has this changed the discourse? On the right, not at all. As far as I can tell, every prominent Republican talks about Obamacare as if all the predicted disasters have, in fact, come to pass.

Finally, one of the interesting political developments of this election cycle has been the triumphant return of voodoo economics, the “supply-side” claim that tax cuts for the rich stimulate the economy so much that they pay for themselves.

In the real world, this doctrine has an unblemished record of failure. Despite confident right-wing predictions of doom, neither the Clinton tax increase of 1993 nor the Obama tax increase of 2013 killed the economy (far from it), while the “Bush boom” that followed the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 was unimpressive even before it ended in financial crisis. Kansas, whose governor promised a “real live experiment” that would prove supply-side doctrine right, has failed even to match the growth of neighboring states.

In the world of Republican politics, however, voodoo’s grip has never been stronger. Would-be presidential candidates must audition in front of prominent supply-siders to prove their fealty to failed doctrine. Tax proposals like Marco Rubio’s would create a giant hole in the budget, then claim that this hole would be filled by a miraculous economic upsurge. Supply-side economics, it’s now clear, is the ultimate zombie: no amount of evidence or logic can kill it.

So why has the Republican Party experienced a zombie apocalypse? One reason, surely, is the fact that most Republican politicians represent states or districts that will never, ever vote for a Democrat, so the only thing they fear is a challenge from the far right. Another is the need to tell Big Money what it wants to hear: a candidate saying anything realistic about Obamacare or tax cuts won’t survive the Sheldon Adelson/Koch brothers primary.

Whatever the reasons, the result is clear. Pundits will try to pretend that we’re having a serious policy debate, but, as far as issues go, 2016 is already set up to be the election of the living dead.

Brooks and Krugman

April 17, 2015

In “When Cultures Shift” Bobo tells us that we ave experienced a major shift in moral culture. But it happened in the 1940s, not the 1960s.  In the comments “Jeo” from New York had this to say:  “This is such a jumble of half-baked ideas, none of which hold up to the slightest scrutiny. Does David Brooks truly think that self-glorifying, flamboyant figures like Joe Namath never existed before the 1940s or after? Has he ever heard of Al Capone? The flappers? The entire roaring 20s?  This loopy thesis is classic David Brooks, cherry-picking examples from here and there to weave some overarching theory that makes no sense whatsoever.”  Prof. Krugman, in “That Old-Time Economics,” says the United States and Europe are on different paths to recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. Bad new ideas have perpetuated depression in Europe.

Here’s Bobo:

In January 1969, two quarterbacks played against each other in Super Bowl III. Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath were both superstars. They were both from Western Pennsylvania, but they came from different cultural universes. Unitas was reticent, workmanlike and deliberately unglamorous. Namath was flashy and a playboy. He turned himself into a marketing brand and wrote a memoir jokingly called, “I Can’t Wait Until Tomorrow ’Cause I Get Better Looking Every Day.”

The contrast between these two men symbolizes a broader shift from a culture of self-effacement, which says, “I’m no better than anybody else and nobody is better than me,” to a culture of self-expression, which says, “Look at what I’ve accomplished. I’m special.”

The conventional story, beloved especially on the right, is that this cultural shift took place in the 1960s. First there was the Greatest Generation, whose members were modest and self-sacrificing, but then along came the baby boomers who were narcissistic and relativistic.

As I found while researching a book, this story line doesn’t really fit the facts. The big shift in American culture did not happen around the time of Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius. It happened in the late 1940s, and it was the members of the Greatest Generation that led the shift.

The real pivot point was the end of World War II. By the fall of 1945, Americans had endured 16 years of hardship, stretching back through the Depression. They were ready to let loose and say farewell to all that. There followed what the historian Alan Petigny called “the renunciation of renunciation.” The amount of consumer advertising on the radio exploded. Magazines ran articles on the wonderful lifestyle changes that were going to make lives easier — ultraviolet lights that would sterilize dishes in place of dishwashing.

There was a softening in the moral sphere. In 1946, Rabbi Joshua Liebman published a book called “Peace of Mind” that told everybody to relax and love themselves. He wrote a new set of commandments, including “Thou shalt not be afraid of thy hidden impulses;” thou shalt “love thyself.” Liebman’s book touched a nerve. It stayed atop The New York Times’s best-seller list for 58 weeks.

A few years later, Harry Overstreet published “The Mature Mind,” which similarly advised people to discard the doctrine based on human sinfulness and embrace self affirmation. That book topped the list for 16 weeks.

In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale came out with “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which rejected a morality of restraint for an upbeat morality of growth. That book rested atop the best-seller list for an astounding 98 weeks.

Then along came humanistic psychology, led by people like Carl Rogers, who was the most influential psychologist of the 20th century. Rogers followed the same basic line. Human nature is intrinsically good. People need to love themselves more. They need to remove external restraints on their glorious selves. “Man’s behavior is exquisitely rational,” Rogers wrote, “moving with subtle and ordered complexity toward the goal his organism is endeavoring to achieve.”

Humanistic psychology led to the self-esteem movement and much else, reshaping the atmosphere in schools, human-resources departments and across American society.

In short, American popular culture pivoted. Once the dominant view was that the self is to be distrusted but external institutions are to be trusted. Then the dominant view was that the self is to be trusted and external constraints are to be distrusted.

This more positive view of human nature produced some very good social benefits. For centuries people in certain groups in society had been taught to think too poorly of themselves. Many feminists and civil rights activists seized on these messages to help formerly oppressed groups to believe in themselves, to raise their sights and aspirations.

But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.

So perhaps the culture needs a rebalance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it.

That was just another word salad from Bobo…  Here’s Prof. Krugman, writing from Brussels:

America has yet to achieve a full recovery from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. Still, it seems fair to say that we’ve made up much, though by no means all, of the lost ground.

But you can’t say the same about the eurozone, where real G.D.P. per capita is still lower than it was in 2007, and 10 percent or more below where it was supposed to be by now. This is worse than Europe’s track record during the 1930s.

Why has Europe done so badly? In the past few weeks, I’ve seen a number of speeches and articles suggesting that the problem lies in the inadequacy of our economic models — that we need to rethink macroeconomic theory, which has failed to offer useful policy guidance in the crisis. But is this really the story?

No, it isn’t. It’s true that few economists predicted the crisis. The clean little secret of economics since then, however, is that basic textbook models, reflecting an approach to recessions and recoveries that would have seemed familiar to students half a century ago, have performed very well. The trouble is that policy makers in Europe decided to reject those basic models in favor of alternative approaches that were innovative, exciting and completely wrong.

I’ve been revisiting economic policy debates since 2008, and what stands out from around 2010 onward is the huge divergence in thinking that emerged between the United States and Europe. In America, the White House and the Federal Reserve mainly stayed faithful to standard Keynesian economics. The Obama administration wasted a lot of time and effort pursuing a so-called Grand Bargain on the budget, but it continued to believe in the textbook proposition that deficit spending is actually a good thing in a depressed economy. Meanwhile, the Fed ignored ominous warnings that it was “debasing the dollar,” sticking with the view that its low-interest-rate policies wouldn’t cause inflation as long as unemployment remained high.

In Europe, by contrast, policy makers were ready and eager to throw textbook economics out the window in favor of new approaches. The European Commission, headquartered here in Brussels, eagerly seized upon supposed evidence for “expansionary austerity,” rejecting the conventional case for deficit spending in favor of the claim that slashing spending in a depressed economy actually creates jobs, because it boosts confidence. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank took inflation warnings to heart and raised interest rates in 2011 even though unemployment was still very high.

But while European policy makers may have imagined that they were showing a praiseworthy openness to new economic ideas, the economists they chose to listen to were those telling them what they wanted to hear. They sought justifications for the harsh policies they were determined, for political and ideological reasons, to impose on debtor nations; they lionized economists, like Harvard’s Alberto Alesina, Carmen Reinhart, and Kenneth Rogoff, who seemed to offer that justification. As it turned out, however, all that exciting new research was deeply flawed, one way or another.

And while new ideas were crashing and burning, that old-time economics was going from strength to strength. Some readers may recall that there was much scoffing at predictions from Keynesian economists, myself included, that interest rates would stay low despite huge budget deficits; that inflation would remain subdued despite huge bond purchases by the Fed; that sharp cuts in government spending, far from unleashing a confidence-driven boom in private spending, would cause private spending to fall further. But all these predictions came true.

The point is that it’s wrong to claim, as many do, that policy failed because economic theory didn’t provide the guidance policy makers needed. In reality, theory provided excellent guidance, if only policy makers had been willing to listen. Unfortunately, they weren’t.

And they still aren’t. If you want to feel really depressed about Europe’s future, read the Op-Ed article by Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, that was published Wednesday by The Times. It’s a flat-out rejection of everything we know about macroeconomics, of all the insights that European experience these past five years confirms. In Mr. Schäuble’s world, austerity leads to confidence, confidence creates growth, and, if it’s not working for your country, it’s because you’re not doing it right.

But back to the question of new ideas and their role in policy. It’s hard to argue against new ideas in general. In recent years, however, innovative economic ideas, far from helping to provide a solution, have been part of the problem. We would have been far better off if we had stuck to that old-time macroeconomics, which is looking better than ever.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers