Archive for the ‘Another pile of crap’ Category

Bobo, solo

September 6, 2016

David Effing Brooks has a question in “The Incredible Shrinking Obamacare:”  Considering how it’s turned out, what was all the fuss about?  His monstrous piece of crap will be followed by a few comments.  Here’s his repellent turd:

During the debate over Obamacare, both supporters and opponents assumed the giant law would transform the American health care system. The supporters argued that the system would help Americans purchase health insurance through carefully regulated state exchanges.President Obama envisioned a day when consumers could shop for health coverage “the same way you’d shop for a plane ticket on Kayak or a TV on Amazon.”

In 2010, the Congressional Budget Office estimated there would be 21 million Americans using the exchanges by now. Many supporters argued that the exchanges would eventually replace the current dominant employer-based system.

The promise of Obamacare was that it would foster competition and offer lower premiums while covering tens of millions of Americans without, as Obama often put it, adding a dime to the deficit.

Unfortunately, most of the exchanges are in serious trouble. As many critics pointed out at the time, the law is poorly designed to induce younger, healthier people to get into the system. The penalties attached to the individual mandate are too weak. The subsidies are too small. The premiums are too costly. The deductibles are too high. Many doctors aren’t participating in the networks.

Only about 12 million people are in exchanges. More important, the exchanges are attracting sicker, poorer people, who drain money, and are not attracting the healthier people who pour money in.

Many insurers are suffering catastrophic losses and pulling out. As James Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute has noted, Aetna has lost $430 million since January 2014 on insurance plans sold through Obamacare and is withdrawing from 11 of its 15 states. United Healthcare has lost $1.3 billion on the exchanges and will cut its participation to three states from 34.

That means less coverage; 24 million Americans still lack health insurance. That means less competition. Before too long, a third of the exchanges will have just one insurer in them. That also means higher premiums. Blue Cross Blue Shield has requested a 62 percent increase for next year in Tennessee and an average 65 percent increase in Arizona. Some experts put the national requested increase at 23 percent.

The exchanges are also producing less coverage. The insurers that are staying offer pared-down restrictive plans that look more like Medicaid.

Does this mean Obamacare is failing? No. The law has produced many positive outcomes across the health care world. More than 20 million more Americanshave coverage because of it, and the evidence suggests their health has improved.

But it does mean Obamacare is not what we thought it would be. It’s a much more modest add-on to the pre-existing system.Sarah Kliff put it well in Vox: “Obamacare’s insurance expansion is on the path to looking like other safety net programs we know, offering limited services to a predominantly low-income population.”

Kliff quotes former administration official Michael Adelberg: “The exchange population — 85 percent of which qualifies for financial assistance — looks a lot like the Medicaid population. And with it, we’re seeing the start of the Medicaid-ization of exchange plans: narrow networks with no frills.”

Again, this is not bad. But we’d have had a very different debate if we knew the law was going to be a discrete government effort to subsidize health care for more poor people. For one thing, Democrats would have probably paid a much smaller political price if their effort wasn’t billed as an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health care system. The administration imagined something transformational; it ended up with something significant but incremental.

There are also lessons for people who think about policy making. First designing technocratic systems that will actually work is really hard. Second, designing effective technocratic systems that can pass politically is really, really hard. Third, designing politically plausible technocratic systems in a country divided on fundamental philosophy is hardness on stilts.

Philosophically, Obamacare tried to split the difference between European-style government coercion (the individual mandates) with a traditionally American respect for competition and freedom of choice (the exchanges).

But lawmakers couldn’t stomach a law involving forceful coercion (punishing penalties to make the young take part) and they couldn’t stomach a more purely market-based system. They wound up with a nonfunctioning compromise.

From here on out the health care debate will return, but in polarized form. Democrats are already really pushing for the public option, a heavier state player. Republicans are pointing out that technocrats are bad at designing dynamic systems and the insurance markets should work more like traditional markets. The next president will have to deal with all this, especially if the exchanges go into a death spiral, even though the subject has been basically ignored in the campaign.

It will be hard to govern after a campaign about nothing.

Dear, sweet, baby Jesus on a pogo stick but he’s got a set of brass balls to be able to write crap like that.  Here for a first comment we have “James Landi,” from Salisbury, MD:

“Oh please David–there was no “philosophical disagreement” to the ACA, and you know it. Lest you forget, the Republican party’s united effort to humiliate the president, derisively name the ACA Obamacare and then take the country through a national object lesson on three scores of floor votes over the past six years to demonstrate their abhorrence for the president was certainly not a lesson in country above politics. And then there are all those brilliant Republican governors who are blocking every effort to establish insurance exchanges in their health care bereft states . SO, you conveniently leave out the fact the ACA was a conservative innovation, the prototype run successfully in Massachusetts, and had the Republican standard bearer taken pride and ownership of the ACA concept and run as a Republican moderate “technocrat” who could unite the Republicans and Democrats in an effort to fix the ACA, we’d likely be moving into the second term of a Romney presidency. But no, there was no “philosophical disagreement” and you know it– there was only “table pounding neyt, neyt, neyt” from the knuckleheaded nihilist “refuseniks” who have created the party of no and given rise to the monstrous spectre of Trump.”

And here’s “Alan R. Brock” from Richmond, VA:  “‘They wound up with a non-functioning compromise.’  This is true. It is also true that Republican reactionaries were absolutely determined to render the ACA non-functional while offering nothing of substance as an alternative and not engaging in good-faith debate about how to improve the dysfunctional, incredibly expensive U.S. health care morass.  Such is the mindset of the party that now offers Donald Trump as their representative.”

And “gemli” from Boston also had a few words for Bobo:

“In their every word and deed, Republicans, including David Brooks, demonstrated that they cared more about the health of insurance companies than they cared about the health of uninsured Americans.

In a long tradition of attacks on welfare, food stamps, Social Security and anything that might help the needy, the ACA faced a barrage of assaults from conservatives that was so intense that no effective law could have emerged unscathed. John Boehner nearly swallowed his tongue in purple-faced apoplectic rage when the law passed. And things went downhill from there.

Opposition to Obamacare became a litmus test for Republicans who were determined to deny the president any shred of success. In all the years of Republican stonewalling when Congress did virtually nothing, the House voted 60 times to repeal the ACA in an impotent symbolic display of noncooperation.

Obamacare was a response to an out-of-control free market system that allowed insurers to drop sick policy holders, refuse coverage for preexisting conditions and set unrealistically low lifetime benefits. It might have been hailed as a mirror of the RomneyCare system that was working in Massachusetts, but instead destruction of the ACA became a badge of what passes for Republican honor.

The ACA emerged bruised and battered after the attacks, and so did the millions of Americans that might have benefited from a nonpartisan to help the sick. It’s too late now to pretend otherwise.”

I wonder how Bobo can stand to look at himself in the mirror every morning.

Brooks and Krugman

August 26, 2016

Bobo has surpassed himself.  In “The Art of Gracious Leadership” he actually has the cojones to say that it’s not too late for Hilary Clinton to learn.  Gee, Bobo — do you think your short-fingered vulgarian could give her a few pointers?  As usual, “gemli” from Boston will have a few words to say back to Bobo.  Prof. Krugman says “No, Donald Trump, America Isn’t a Hellhole,” and that the Republican nominee has delusions of a dystopia.  Here, FSM keep us all sane, is Bobo:

Lately I’ve been thinking about experience. Donald Trump lacks political experience, and the ineptitude caused by his inexperience is evident every day. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton is nothing if not experienced. Her ship is running smoothly, and yet as her reaction to the email scandal shows once again, there’s often a whiff of inhumanity about her campaign that inspires distrust.

So I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough to be experienced. The people in public life we really admire turn experience into graciousness.

Those people, I think, see their years as humbling agents. They see that, more often than not, the events in our lives are perfectly designed to lay bare our chronic weaknesses and expose some great whopping new ones.

Sooner or later life teaches you that you’re not the center of the universe, nor quite as talented or good as you thought. It teaches you to care less about what others think and, less self-conscious, to get out of your own way.

People who are gracious also understand the accuracy of John Keats’s observation that “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.” You can learn some truth out of a book or from the mouth of a friend, but somehow wisdom is not lodged inside until its truth has been engraved by some moment of humiliation, delight, disappointment, joy or some other firsthand emotion.

The mistakes just have to be made.

Gracious people are humble enough to observe that the best things in life are usually undeserved — the way the pennies of love you invest in children get returned in dollars later on; the kindness of strangers; the rebirth that comes after a friend’s unexpected and overawing act of forgiveness.

The gracious people one sees in life and reads about in history books — I’m thinking of the all-time greats like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Dorothy Day as well as closer figures ranging from Francis to Havel — turn awareness of their own frailty into sympathy for others’ frailty. As Juan Gabriel Vásquez wrote, “Experience, or what we call experience, is not the inventory of our pains, but rather the learned sympathy towards the pain of others.”

They are good at accepting gifts, which is necessary for real friendship, but is hard for a proud person to do. They can be surprisingly tenacious in action. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. The grace that flowed into him from friends and supporters and from all directions made him radically hopeful and gave him confidence and tenacity. His capacity to fight grew out of his capacity to receive.

Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.

The U.S. military used to be pretty good at breeding this type of leader. In the years around World War II, generals often got fired. But they were also given second chances. That is, they endured brutal experiences, but they were given a chance to do something with those experiences and come back stronger and more supple.

They were also reminded very clearly that as members of an elite, they had the responsibilities that come with that station. Today, everybody is in denial about being part of the establishment, believing the actual elite is someone else. Therefore, no one is raised with a code of stewardship and a sense of personal privilege and duty.

Hillary Clinton has experience, but does not seem to have been transformed by it. Amid the email scandal she is repeating the same mistakes she made during the Rose Law Firm scandal two decades ago. Her posture is still brittle, stonewalling and dissembling. Clinton scandals are all the same. There’s an act of unseemly but not felonious behavior, then the futile drawn-out withholding of information, and forever after the unwillingness to ever come clean.

Experience distills life into instinct. If you interpret your life as a battlefield, then you will want to maintain control at all times. You will hoard access. You will refuse to have press conferences. You will close yourself off to those who can help.

If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside. Gracious leaders create a more gracious environment by greeting the world openly and so end up maximizing their influence and effectiveness.

It’s tough to surrender control, but like the rest of us, Hillary Clinton gets to decide what sort of leader she wants to be. America is desperate for a little uplift, for a leader who shows that she trusts her fellow citizens. It’s never too late to learn from experience.

I can’t even imagine how he managed to write that without disappearing in a puff of sulfurous smoke…  Here’s what “gemli” had to say about it:

“Yet more irony from a Republican enabler.

This election season began with 16 of the most graceless human beings ever assembled running for office under the Republican banner. They universally trashed the most gracious and intelligent president we’ve had in the last half-century. The G.O.P.’s front-runner even made his political reputation by lying openly, blatantly and repeatedly about Mr. Obama’s citizenship, loyalty, honesty and legitimacy.

There are lessons to be learned about the character of people who rise to positions of leadership, but the “scandal” of using a private e-mail server pales in comparison to the toxic malevolence of Republicans who built their reputations on lying, science denying, shutting down the government, rending the social safety net, enriching the rich, denying women access to reproductive healthcare and promising to replace secular government with an army of evangelical zealots.

Proportion is as important as grace. The e-mail “scandal” seems trivial compared to the national embarrassment of Donald Trump. If one e-mail was found on Clinton’s server that said anything as damaged, deranged and despicable as Trump says in his every utterance, she would be instantly disqualified.

It’s hard to know which of the Republicans has “learned sympathy toward the pain of others,” as there’s not a Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela or King among them. Any of these great leaders would have condemned the G.O.P. for making a mockery of our democracy.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Donald Trump has taken a strange turn lately. O.K., he has taken a lot of strange turns — that’s what happens when you nominate a short-attention-span candidate who knows nothing about policy and refuses to sit still for more than three minutes. But never mind what passes for Trumpian policy ideas. What’s odd is the shift in what the problem is supposed to be.

When the Trump campaign started, it was, at least nominally, about economics. Foreigners are stealing your jobs, the candidate declared, both through unfair trade and by coming here as immigrants. And he would make America great again with punitive tariffs and mass deportations.

But the story changed at the Republican convention. There was remarkably little economic discussion on display; there wasn’t even much economic demagogy. Instead, the focus was all on law and order, on saving the nation from what the candidate described as a terrifying crime wave.

That theme has continued in recent weeks, with Mr. Trump’s “outreach” to minority voters. His notion of a pitch to these voters is to tell them how horrible their lives are, that they are facing “crime at levels that nobody has seen.” Even “war zones,” he says, are “safer than living in some of our inner cities.”

All of this is really strange — because nothing like this is actually happening.

Back when the Trump campaign was ostensibly about the loss of middle-class jobs, it was at least pretending to be about a real issue: Employment in manufacturing really is way down; real wages of blue-collar workers have fallen. You could say that Trumpism isn’t the answer (it isn’t), but not that the issue was a figment of the candidate’s imagination.

But when Mr. Trump portrays America’s cities as hellholes of runaway crime and social collapse, what on earth is he talking about? Urban life is one of the things that has gone right with America. In fact, it has gone so right that those of us who remember the bad old days still find it hard to believe.

Let’s talk specifically about violent crime. Consider, in particular, the murder rate, arguably the most solid indicator for long-run comparisons because there’s no ambiguity about definitions. Homicides did shoot up between the early 1960s and the 1980s, and images of a future dystopia — think “Escape From New York” (1981) or Blade Runner (1982) — became a staple of popular culture. Conservative writers assured us that soaring crime was the inevitable result of a collapse in traditional values and that things would get even worse unless those values were restored.

But then a funny thing happened: The murder rate began falling, and falling, and falling. By 2014 it was all the way back down to where it was half a century earlier. There was some rise in 2015, but so far, at least, it’s barely a blip in the long-run picture.

Basically, American cities are as safe as they’ve ever been. Nobody is completely sure why crime has plunged, but the point is that the nightmare landscape of the Republican candidate’s rhetoric — call it Trump’s hellhole? — bears no resemblance to reality.

And we’re not just talking about statistics here; we’re also talking about lived experience. Fear of crime hasn’t disappeared from American life — today’s New York is incredibly safe by historical standards, yet I still wouldn’t walk around some areas at 3 a.m. But fear clearly plays a much diminished role now in daily life.

So what is all of this about? The same thing everything in the Trump campaign is about: race.

I used scare quotes when talking about Mr. Trump’s racial “outreach” because it’s clear that the real purpose of his vaguely conciliatory rhetoric is not so much to attract nonwhite voters as it is to reassure squeamish whites that he isn’t as racist as he seems. But here’s the thing: Even when he is trying to sound racially inclusive, his imagery is permeated by an “alt-right” sensibility that fundamentally sees nonwhites as subhuman.

Thus when he asks African-Americans, “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he betrays ignorance of the reality that most African-Americans work hard for a living and that there is a large black middle class. Oh, and 86 percent of nonelderly black adults have health insurance, up from 73 percent in 2010 thanks to Obamacare. Maybe they do have something to lose?

But how was he supposed to know? In the mental world he and those he listens to inhabit, blacks and other nonwhites are by definition shiftless burdens on society.

Which brings us back to the notion of America as a nightmarish dystopia. Taken literally, that’s nonsense. But today’s increasingly multiracial, multicultural society is a nightmare for people who want a white, Christian nation in which lesser breeds know their place. And those are the people Mr. Trump has brought out into the open.

Bobo, solo

August 9, 2016

Oh, dear, sweet baby Jesus on a tricycle…  Bobo has had a great revelation.  Bobo has decided that money is not good for you.  Really.  In “The Great Affluence Fallacy” he gurgles that money can buy privacy, but privacy often makes life worse.  I wonder when he’ll move out of his gated community…  And “gemli” from Boston will have something to say about Bobo’s crap.  Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

In 18th-century America, colonial society and Native American society sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society, but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one.

This struck them as strange. Colonial society was richer and more advanced. And yet people were voting with their feet the other way.

The colonials occasionally tried to welcome Native American children into their midst, but they couldn’t persuade them to stay. Benjamin Franklin observed the phenomenon in 1753, writing, “When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return.”

During the wars with the Indians, many European settlers were taken prisoner and held within Indian tribes. After a while, they had plenty of chances to escape and return, and yet they did not. In fact, when they were “rescued,” they fled and hid from their rescuers.

Sometimes the Indians tried to forcibly return the colonials in a prisoner swap, and still the colonials refused to go. In one case, the Shawanese Indians were compelled to tie up some European women in order to ship them back. After they were returned, the women escaped the colonial towns and ran back to the Indians.

Even as late as 1782, the pattern was still going strong. Hector de Crèvecoeur wrote, “Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those aborigines having from choice become European.”

I first read about this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “Tribe.” It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility that our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.

The native cultures were more communal. As Junger writes, “They would have practiced extremely close and involved child care. And they would have done almost everything in the company of others. They would have almost never been alone.”

If colonial culture was relatively atomized, imagine American culture of today. As we’ve gotten richer, we’ve used wealth to buy space: bigger homes, bigger yards, separate bedrooms, private cars, autonomous lifestyles. Each individual choice makes sense, but the overall atomizing trajectory sometimes seems to backfire. According to the World Health Organization, people in wealthy countries suffer depression by as much as eight times the rate as people in poor countries.

There might be a Great Affluence Fallacy going on — we want privacy in individual instances, but often this makes life generally worse.

Every generation faces the challenge of how to reconcile freedom and community — “On the Road” versus “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But I’m not sure any generation has faced it as acutely as millennials.

In the great American tradition, millennials would like to have their cake and eat it, too. A few years ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis came out with a song called “Can’t Hold Us,” which contained the couplet: “We came here to live life like nobody was watching/I got my city right behind me, if I fall, they got me.” In the first line they want complete autonomy; in the second, complete community.

But, of course, you can’t really have both in pure form. If millennials are heading anywhere, it seems to be in the direction of community. Politically, millennials have been drawn to the class solidarity of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Hillary Clinton — secretive and a wall-builder — is the quintessence of boomer autonomy. She has trouble with younger voters.

Professionally, millennials are famous for bringing their whole self to work: turning the office into a source of friendships, meaning and social occasions.

I’m meeting more millennials who embrace the mentality expressed in the book “The Abundant Community,” by John McKnight and Peter Block. The authors are notably hostile to consumerism.

They are anti-institutional and anti-systems. “Our institutions can offer only service — not care — for care is the freely given commitment from the heart of one to another,” they write.

Millennials are oriented around neighborhood hospitality, rather than national identity or the borderless digital world. “A neighborhood is the place where you live and sleep.” How many of your physical neighbors know your name?

Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.

He should be dragged out of his palatial living quarters and forced to live in an inner city on minimum wage for a year, the prick.  Here’s what “gemli” has to say:

David Brooks, or as I like to think of him, Big Chief Running Mouth, talks a good game. But somehow I can’t imagine him trading his gated community for a tepee. He should realize that we’ve been trying to bring the tribal ethos to the U.S. for a long time, with strong local communities providing the sort of help and social services that bind people together and take care of each other as we get older, or fall short in some way.

But He Who Talks with Forked Tongue likes to imagine an egalitarian utopia where 99 percent of us are quietly stitching blankets while a few get to hoard the vital resources. When the tribesmen and women protested and occupied Wall Street, Brooks nearly went on the warpath, and wrote a column in the Times entitled “The Milquetoast Radicals,” (10/11/2011) in which he castigated the unwashed hippies who dared to protest the insane degree of income inequality in this country.

When he writes about the wonderful local communities that he values so highly, he expects them to operate on a volunteer basis (“A Nation of Healers,” 6/21/2016). There will be no wampum for medical services, or for building schools, roads and bridges. The people who built the country, and who made it possible for the few to thrive, will be begrudged the retirement they paid into and be buried in paupers’ graves.

If we needed proof, the title of this piece says it all. When a wealthy person tells you that affluence is a curse, hide your wampum and run.”

Bobo, solo.

May 3, 2016

Oh, gawd, but he’s a tiresome little fop.  Bobo is now hyperventilating and wringing his hands over “The Choice Explosion.”  He gurgles that American life today is defined by many options, but we often lack the techniques to make good decisions.  Here’s a short comment by “Len Safhay” from New Jersey, with the complete comment by “gemli” from Boston following Bobo: ” “…the choice explosion has contributed to widening inequality.”  Hmmmm…choices choices, choices. Let’s see…go sailing? Nah, too wet. Spring semester in Paris? Too rude. Buy a classic 10 room co-op on Park Avenue? Too stuffy. Pick up a Bonnard at Christies? Too yellow. Man, I wish I had a priest or a rabbi to tell me what to do; this lack of old time values and moral authority figures and shibboleths is leaving me spiritually, emotionally and intellectually adrift! Wait…here’s one…work for $8 an hour; no benefits. Bingo!  Yep, must be it.”  Here, FSM help us all, is Bobo:

A few years ago, the social psychologist Sheena Iyengarasked 100 American and Japanese college students to take a piece of paper. On one side, she had them write down the decisions in life they would like to make for themselves. On the other, they wrote the decisions they would like to pass on to others.

The Americans filled up the side for decisions they want to decide for themselves. Where to live. What job to take. The other side was almost blank. The only “decision” they commonly wanted to hand off to others was, “When I die.”

The Japanese filled up the back side of the sheet with things they wanted others to decide: what they wore; what time they woke up; what they did at their job. The Americans desired choice in four times more domains than the Japanese.

Americans have always put great emphasis on individual choice. But even by our own standards we’ve had a choice explosion over the past 30 years. Americans now have more choices over more things than any other culture in human history. We can choose between a broader array of foods, media sources, lifestyles and identities. We have more freedom to live out our own sexual identities and more religious and nonreligious options to express our spiritual natures.

This opening has produced much that is wonderful. But making decisions well is incredibly difficult, even for highly educated professional decision makers. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath point out in their book “Decisive,” 83 percent of corporate mergers and acquisitions do not increase shareholder value, 40 percent of senior hires do not last 18 months in their new position, 44 percent of lawyers would recommend that a young person not follow them into the law.

It’s becoming incredibly important to learn to decide well, to develop the techniques of self-distancing to counteract the flaws in our own mental machinery. The Heath book is a very good compilation of those techniques.

For example, they mention the maxim, assume positive intent. When in the midst of some conflict, start with the belief that others are well intentioned. It makes it easier to absorb information from people you’d rather not listen to.

They highlight Suzy Welch’s 10-10-10 rule. When you’re about to make a decision, ask yourself how you will feel about it 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now. People are overly biased by the immediate pain of some choice, but they can put the short-term pain in long-term perspective by asking these questions.

The Heaths recommend making deliberate mistakes. A survey of new brides found that 20 percent were not initially attracted to the man they ended up marrying. Sometimes it’s useful to make a deliberate “mistake” — agreeing to dinner with a guy who is not your normal type. Sometimes you don’t really know what you want and the filters you apply are hurting you.

They mention our tendency to narrow-frame, to see every decision as a binary “whether or not” alternative. Whenever you find yourself asking “whether or not,” it’s best to step back and ask, “How can I widen my options?” In other words, before you ask, “Should I fire this person?” Ask, “Is there any way I can shift this employee’s role to take advantage of his strengths and avoid his weaknesses?”

The explosion of choice means we all need more help understanding the anatomy of decision-making. It makes you think that we should have explicit decision-making curriculums in all schools. Maybe there should be a common course publicizing the work of Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, Dan Ariely and others who study the way we mess up and the techniques we can adopt to prevent error.

This is probably especially important for schools that serve the less fortunate. The explosion of choice places extra burdens on the individual. Poorer Americans have fewer resources to master decision-making techniques, less social support to guide their decision-making and less of a safety net to catch them when they err.

As the researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have shown, the stress of scarcity itself can distort decision-making. Those who experienced stress as children often perceive threat more acutely and live more defensively. A school principal I met in Pittsburgh observed that living in an area of concentrated poverty can close down your perceived options, and comfortably “relieve you of the burden of choosing life.” It’s hard to maintain a feeling of agency when you see no chance of opportunity.

In this way the choice explosion has contributed to widening inequality.

It’s important to offer opportunity and incentives. But we also need lessons in self-awareness — on exactly how our decision-making tool is fundamentally flawed, and on mental frameworks we can adopt to avoid messing up even more than we do.

This whining, simpering fop needs to get the hell out of his “vast spaces for entertaining” and spend a full year living on the minimum wage.  What an awful foof he is.  Now here’s what “gemli” had to say to him:

“We don’t need anyone’s help making decisions for ourselves. What we need is a level playing field. Every “freedom” that Mr. Brooks mentions had to be fought for against a conservative backlash that condemned people for their choices. And the battle is far from over.

If David Brooks thinks that people can live out their sexual identities he hasn’t been paying attention to initiatives in North Carolina that would tell the transgendered which restrooms they can use. No one chooses to be gay, but increasing religious freedom has often meant the freedom to openly demonize gay people, undermine abortion rights and to inject medieval theology into public policy.

Mr. Brooks mentions “schools that serve the less fortunate” as if they’re a fact of nature and not a choice that has been made for us. They exist because cities have been economically abandoned for decades, crumbling under the weight of a pathetic minimum wage, egregious income inequality and a Civil War that never really ended.

Some of us chose Mr. Obama as our president to recover from eight years of Republican war and economic collapse. That choice was taken away from us by conservatives who crippled our democracy by refusing to cooperate with the president. For the upcoming election, they’ve given Republicans the choice between a real estate buffoon and an evangelical dominionist.

There is no choice when it’s a game of heads they win, tails we lose.”

The editors of the NYT should fire Bobo’s useless butt and give the space to gemli.

Bobo, solo

March 22, 2016

Oh, dear God.  Bobo feels that he now has to explain “The Middle-Age Surge.”  He sits in his vast spaces for entertaining and burbles that the image of midlife as a time of crisis is almost the opposite of what this period in life is really about.  Dear, sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick…  In the comments “Greeley” from Farmington, CT sets him straight:  “Mr. Brooks, The fact that you can write this column and not even give a passing nod to the vast number of Americans who are never going to have a peaceful middle age+ period in their lives speaks volumes about the obliviousness with which you and your privileged compatriots proceed. You must be very sheltered, indeed, if you have missed the news bulletin that millions of Americans lost what little they had in the financial meltdown, caused mostly by the Republicans who had their hands on the controls. And you wonder whence came Trump and Sanders?  Wake up and smell the coffee, Mr. Brooks. We now have a new kind of midlife (and old age) crisis, far removed from the decision to buy a red Corvette. We no longer have the luxury of an existential pondering of our mortality in our later years. This crisis is called survival.  So sorry to burst your bubble.” Here, FSM help us, is Bobo:

The phrase almost completes itself: Midlife … crisis. It’s the stage in the middle of the journey when people feel youth vanishing, their prospects narrowing and death approaching. So they become undone. The red Corvette pops up in the driveway. Stupidity reigns.

There’s only one problem with the cliché. It isn’t true.

“In fact, there is almost no hard evidence for midlife crisis at all, other than a few small pilot studies conducted decades ago,” Barbara Bradley Hagerty writes in her new book, “Life Reimagined.” The vast bulk of the research shows that there may be a pause, or a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but this shift “can be exhilarating, rather than terrifying.”

Bradley Hagerty looks at some of the features of people who turn midlife into a rebirth. They break routines, because “autopilot is death.” They choose purpose over happiness — having a clear sense of purpose even reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. They put relationships at the foreground, as career often recedes.

“Life Reimagined” paints a portrait of middle age that is far from grim and decelerating. Midlife begins to seem like the second big phase of decision-making. Your identity has been formed; you know who you are; you’ve built up your resources; and now you have the chance to take the big risks precisely because your foundation is already secure.

The theologian Karl Barth described midlife in precisely this way. At middle age, he wrote, “the sowing is behind; now is the time to reap. The run has been taken; now is the time to leap. Preparation has been made; now is the time for the venture of the work itself.”

The middle-aged person, Barth continued, can see death in the distance, but moves with a “measured haste” to get big new things done while there is still time.

What Barth wrote decades ago is even truer today. People are healthy and energetic longer. We have presidential candidates running for their first term in office at age 68, 69 and 74. Greater longevity is changing the narrative structure of life itself.

The elongation of vital life has changed the phases of life. The most obvious change is the emergence of the odyssey years. People between age 20 and the early 30s can now take a little more time to try on new career options, new cities and new partners.

However, another profound but more hidden change is the altered shape of middle age. What could have been considered the beginning of a descent is now a potential turning point — the turning point you are most equipped to take full advantage of.

It is the moment when you can look back on your life so far and see it with different eyes. Hopefully you’ve built up some wisdom, which, as the psychologists define it, means seeing the world with more compassion, grasping opposing ideas at the same time, tolerating ambiguity and reacting with equanimity to the small setbacks of life.

By middle age you might begin to see, retrospectively, the dominant motifs that have been running through your various decisions. You might begin to see how all your different commitments can be integrated into one meaning and purpose. You might see the social problem your past has made you uniquely equipped to tackle. You might have enough clarity by now to orient your life around a true north on some ultimate horizon.

Lincoln, for example, found in midlife that everything so far had prepared him to preserve the Union and end slavery. The rest of us don’t have causes that grand, but plenty of people bring their life to a point. They dive fully into existing commitments, or embrace new ones.

Either way, with a little maturity, they’re less likely by middle age to be blinded by ego, more likely to know what it is they actually desire, more likely to get out of their own way, and maybe a little less likely, given all the judgments that have been made, to care about what other people think.

The people who find meaning at this stage often realize the way up is down.

They get off that supervisor’s perch and put themselves in direct contact with the people they can help the most. They accept that certain glorious youthful dreams won’t be realized, but other, more relational jobs turn out to be more fulfilling.

They achieve a kind of tranquillity, not because they’ve decided to do nothing, but because they’ve achieved focus and purity of will. They have enough self-confidence, and impatience, to say no to some things so they can say yes to others.

From this perspective, middle age is kind of inspiring. Many of life’s possibilities are now closed, but limitation is often liberating. The remaining possibilities can be seized more bravely, and lived more deeply.

I can’t wait until Driftglass and/or Charlie Pierce sink their teeth into this.  And for the love of St. Francis, somebody dognap poor, poor Moral Hazard.  He’s suffered enough.

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…  (

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.