Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow and Krugman

June 29, 2015

In “My Murdered Cousin Had a Name” Mr. Blow tells us that for people who were both black and gay, obstacles were everywhere in years past.  In “Greece Over the Brink” Prof. Krugman says ever-harsher austerity has been a dead end, and those who demand more of it have been wrong every step of the way.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday, for me, was a bit surreal. As America was celebrating the victory of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, it was also mourning black people in South Carolina murdered by a white supremacist.

All the while I thought about a cousin of mine who was murdered years ago. We grew up in the same segregated Louisiana hamlet of about a thousand people. Everyone said that he was gay (only they used pejoratives in place of that word) because of the way he carried himself and the fact that he didn’t date women or marry one.

However, he never addressed his sexuality in my presence. It was not a thing that in that time and place one proclaimed. Small, rural communities like ours maintained their own, unwritten Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell protocols. He simply lived by his own terms.

And yet, my cousin’s difference became more evident to me when he started to stop by the small upholstery shop down the street where one of my brothers was an apprentice and where I sometimes visited.

As I wrote in my memoir, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones”:

“Lawrence felt at ease coming to the shop and saying things there that he didn’t say elsewhere, the air always pregnant with a ‘maybe.’ Maybe he was flirting. Maybe not. If he went too far, maybe that would be okay. Maybe he was being mocked. Maybe he was being entertaining. Maybe, just maybe. He knew the things he was saying were dangerous, because just being himself was dangerous. He was operating outside the rules.”

Others like Lawrence hid more or lived in repression more.

“But not Lawrence. He wouldn’t pretend. He wouldn’t hide.”

In the book I called him Lawrence, but that was not his name. One of my mother’s only requests was that I change everyone’s names. She was expressly worried about publishing “Lawrence’s” name. I acquiesced.

You see, more than a decade after I remember him coming to the upholstery shop, he was found murdered — tied to a bed — in a neighboring town. The gossip was that his life had been taken because of the way he had lived it. To my knowledge, no one was ever charged with that murder. Such were the dangers of being both black and different.

In a 1984 interview, when my cousin and I both still lived in that small town, James Baldwin was asked about the roots of homophobia. He responded: “Terror, I suppose. Terror of the flesh.”

But when living black gayness, or any similar otherness, in America, that terror of flesh is doubled. You are on the margins of the margin.

For, you see, even in gayness, blackness is set apart. As Baldwin put it:

“A black gay person who is a sexual conundrum to society is already, long before the question of sexuality comes into it, menaced and marked because he’s black or she’s black. The sexual question comes after the question of color; it’s simply one more aspect of the danger in which all black people live.”

Baldwin concluded:

“The gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.”

My cousin’s life and death underscored this duality for me:

“Five years after Lawrence was tied to the bed and killed, Matthew Shepard, a young, white, openly gay man, was tied to a fence and killed in a small Wyoming city. While Lawrence’s death hardly made the local papers, Matthew’s provoked an international outcry. That discrepancy would haunt me.”

My cousin’s name was Larry, and he was kind and beautiful and brave and worthy. That name, more than ever, deserves to be written, spoken, celebrated, not because he was famous or because he lived a remarkable life. It deserves to be spoken because he did not. His anonymity gives his name all the more power, because he could have been anyone.

Larry lived a kind of amplified erasure: black and nonhetero-normative. And, he lived it as boldly as he could at a time when it was dangerous to do so and in a place where there was little support or protection.

I wish that Larry had survived to see a time when the country was fighting to affirm both parts of his identity, fighting to acknowledge that his black life mattered and his love life mattered. I wish he had lived to see more people come to understand the intersectionality of oppression — that racism and homophobia are born of the same beast.

I wish he could have lived to proudly proclaim his difference and have his halves reconciled.

I wish he had lived to see the day that society — and indeed the law — didn’t attempt to diminish a person’s dignity based on how they articulated the parameters of their attraction or lived the reality of their intimacy.

I wish he had lived to see a black president eulogize a black man killed and also advocate for the full and rich lives that L.G.B.T.Q. people live. I wish Larry had lived to see Friday.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It has been obvious for some time that the creation of the euro was a terrible mistake. Europe never had the preconditions for a successful single currency — above all, the kind of fiscal and banking union that, for example, ensures that when a housing bubble in Florida bursts, Washington automatically protects seniors against any threat to their medical care or their bank deposits.

Leaving a currency union is, however, a much harder and more frightening decision than never entering in the first place, and until now even the Continent’s most troubled economies have repeatedly stepped back from the brink. Again and again, governments have submitted to creditors’ demands for harsh austerity, while the European Central Bank has managed to contain market panic.

But the situation in Greece has now reached what looks like a point of no return. Banks are temporarily closed and the government has imposed capital controls — limits on the movement of funds out of the country. It seems highly likely that the government will soon have to start payingpensions and wages in scrip, in effect creating a parallel currency. And next week the country will hold a referendum on whether to accept the demands of the “troika” — the institutions representing creditor interests — for yet more austerity.

Greece should vote “no,” and the Greek government should be ready, if necessary, to leave the euro.

To understand why I say this, you need to realize that most — not all, but most — of what you’ve heard about Greek profligacy and irresponsibility is false. Yes, the Greek government was spending beyond its means in the late 2000s. But since then it has repeatedly slashed spending and raised taxes. Government employment has fallen more than 25 percent, and pensions (which were indeed much too generous) have been cut sharply. If you add up all the austerity measures, they have been more than enough to eliminate the original deficit and turn it into a large surplus.

So why didn’t this happen? Because the Greek economy collapsed, largely as a result of those very austerity measures, dragging revenues down with it.

And this collapse, in turn, had a lot to do with the euro, which trapped Greece in an economic straitjacket. Cases of successful austerity, in which countries rein in deficits without bringing on a depression, typically involve large currency devaluations that make their exports more competitive. This is what happened, for example, in Canada in the 1990s, and to an important extent it’s what happened in Iceland more recently. But Greece, without its own currency, didn’t have that option.

So have I just made the case for “Grexit” — Greek exit from the euro? Not necessarily. The problem with Grexit has always been the risk of financial chaos, of a banking system disrupted by panicked withdrawals and of business hobbled both by banking troubles and by uncertainty over the legal status of debts. That’s why successive Greek governments have acceded to austerity demands, and why even Syriza, the ruling leftist coalition, was willing to accept the austerity that has already been imposed. All it asked for was, in effect, a standstill on further austerity.

But the troika was having none of it. It’s easy to get lost in the details, but the essential point now is that Greece has been presented with a take-it-or-leave-it offer that is effectively indistinguishable from the policies of the past five years.

This is, and presumably was intended to be, an offer Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, can’t accept, because it would destroy his political reason for being. The purpose must therefore be to drive him from office, which will probably happen if Greek voters fear confrontation with the troika enough to vote yes next week.

But they shouldn’t, for three reasons. First, we now know that ever-harsher austerity is a dead end: after five years Greece is in worse shape than ever. Second, much and perhaps most of the feared chaos from Grexit has already happened. With banks closed and capital controls imposed, there’s not that much more damage to be done.

Finally, acceding to the troika’s ultimatum would represent the final abandonment of any pretense of Greek independence. Don’t be taken in by claims that troika officials are just technocrats explaining to the ignorant Greeks what must be done. These supposed technocrats are in fact fantasists who have disregarded everything we know about macroeconomics, and have been wrong every step of the way. This isn’t about analysis, it’s about power — the power of the creditors to pull the plug on the Greek economy, which persists as long as euro exit is considered unthinkable.

So it’s time to put an end to this unthinkability. Otherwise Greece will face endless austerity, and a depression with no hint of an end.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

June 25, 2015

In “Confederate Flags and Institutional Racism” Mr. Blow says taking down symbols is well and good. But we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.  Mr. Kristof says “Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start” and that he’s all for celebrating the drawing down of the flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.  Ms. Collins is “Poking the Republican Pyramid” and says the field of presidential candidates is full of past and present governors with records worth considering.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In the wake of the Charleston massacre, there is a rapidly growing consensus sweeping the country to remove the Confederate flag, a relic of racial divisiveness, from civic spaces.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina has called for its removal from the grounds of that state’s capitol.

Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, has used executive powers to take down Confederate flags at that state’s capitol grounds.

As The Associated Press reported Wednesday:

“U.S. Senator Roger Wicker became Mississippi’s second top-tier Republican to call for changing the flag that state has used since Reconstruction. Wicker said it ‘should be put in a museum and replaced by one that is more unifying.’”

“Lawmakers in Tennessee said a bust of Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest must go from their Senate. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe was among several state leaders taking aim at vanity license plates with Confederate symbols.”

Furthermore:

“Wal-Mart, e-Bay, Amazon, Target and Sears were among those removing Confederate merchandise from stores and online sites, and at least three major flag makers said they will no longer manufacture the Confederate flag.”

All of this is well and good. We should move overt symbols of racial division to places like museums, where they can be displayed in proper context and where education is part of the mission.

And yet, there is a part of me that still believes we are focusing on the 10 percent of the iceberg above the water and not the 90 percent below.

When do we move from our consensus over taking down symbols to the much harder and more important work of taking down structures?

I worry much less about individual expressions of racism than I do about institutional expressions of racism. And we live in an age where people are earnestly trying to convince us that institutional racism doesn’t exist.

In an interview for the podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” President Obama used a racial slur to make the point that eliminating the use of such language from polite society wasn’t the “measure of whether racism still exists or not.”

The slur got most of the attention; far less was devoted to the point the president was making about the resilience of institutional, intergenerational racism.

As the president put it: “It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened” 200 to 300 years ago.

This is not to deny progress, but only to point out that the process isn’t complete. It is to point out that overt displays of racism are not the appropriate measure thereof. Focus less on the individual and more on the institutions.

Yet The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page this week juxtaposed Civil Rights-era institutional racism with our present day environment to argue that institutional racism no longer exists in this country.

According to The Journal: “Back then and before, the institutions of government — police, courts, organized segregation — often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims.”

It continued: “Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.”

The Fox News contributor Monica Crowley said this week on “The O’Reilly Factor”:

“Are there individual racists in this country? Sadly, yes. Does institutional racism exist anymore? No, it does not.”

She continued:

“We’ve got to understand that when we talk about racists or racism in America, it is not created by government action or codified law or social acceptance. O.K. But you have people on the far left who believe that America is a nation that was founded on genocide, theft, crimes and lies.”

“Slavery,” Bill O’Reilly sighed.

“Slavery,” Crowley agreed.

On Fox News’s “Hannity,” after the contributor Deneen Borelli said of the president, “I have dubbed him today Rapper in Chief,” the guest host David Webb posed the question to another guest: “Is America institutionally racist, that’s racism which requires codified law, a social acceptance, societal acceptance — and we know that racists, racists will always exist. Bias, prejudice in some form, black, white, in any form will always exist. Is America institutionally racist or are there racists in America?”

As if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Webb later answered his own question: “I say we’re not.”

All of these definitions of institutional racism are incredibly narrow, and therefore take an incredibly myopic view of what institutional racism looks like. These definitions require a sort of direct discrimination, an articulation either in law or custom, to be deemed real.

But institutional racism will not be limited in that way. Institutional racism is often like a pathogen in the blood: You can’t see it; you have to test for it. But you can see its destructive effects as it sickens the host.

Furthermore, institutional racism doesn’t require the enlisting of individual racists. The machine does the discriminating. It provides a remove, a space, between the unpleasantness of racial discrimination — and indeed hatred — and the ultimate, undeniable and, for some, desirable outcome of structural oppression.

I prefer the Aspen Institute’s definition: “Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage.”

Yet institutional racism’s defenders — or more precisely, its concealers — demand an articulated proof for something that moves in silence. They demand to see chapter and verse for something that is unwritten. They demand to know the names of the individual architects of a structure built subconsciously over time by each member of the vast multitudes adding their own bit, like beavers adding branches to a dam.

Institutional racism isn’t so much a grand design as it is an accumulation of racial detritus.

Symbols are important. Those Confederate flags must come down. That will be a spiritual victory. But we must not stop there. Institutional racism is the real prize on this hunt. Bring that down and cheers can truly go up.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Suppose African-Americans marked their heritage with flags depicting Nat Turner’s rebellion of 1831, in which slaves massacred about 60 whites before the uprising was crushed? The flag wouldn’t be celebrating the murder of whites, of course, but would simply commemorate a factual milestone in black history!

Suppose Mexican-Americans waved a flag depicting the battle of the Alamo? The point would not be to celebrate the slaughter of Texans, but to express pride in Mexican heritage!

Suppose Canadian-Americans displayed a flag showing the burning of the White House in the War of 1812? Nothing against the Yanks, mind you — just a point of Canadian historical pride!

Suppose American women waved flags of Lorena Bobbitt, who reacted to domestic abuse in 1993 by severing her husband’s penis and throwing it into a field? The aim wouldn’t be to approve of sexual mutilation, of course — but Bobbitt’s subsequent acquittal was a landmark in the recognition of domestic violence!

Well, you get the point. That’s how the Confederate battle flag looked to many of us. And at least Nat Turner was fighting for his own freedom, while the Confederate battle flag was the banner of those who fought freedom, defended slavery, clubbed civil rights workers — and, most recently, murdered black churchgoers. And it’s exhilarating to see the same distaste expressed in the Southern mainstream.

“The Confederate battle flag was the emblem of Jim Crow defiance to the civil rights movement, of the Dixiecrat opposition to integration, and of the domestic terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan,” noted Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention. “White Christians ought to think about what that flag says to our African-American brothers and sisters.”

The last year has brought a far-reaching conversation about race in America. But much of that conversation seemed polarizing more than clarifying, leaving each side more entrenched than ever — so it’s thrilling to see a wave of action now.

South Carolina may finally remove the flag from the State House grounds, Alabama has removed four Confederate flags from its state Capitol grounds, and Mississippi may also take a Confederate battle cross off the state flag. Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and North Carolina seem poised to keep the Confederate flag off license plates. A bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, is expected to be evicted from the Tennessee State House. Walmart, Sears, Amazon, e-Bay and other retailers will no longer sell Confederate merchandise.

So we’re finally seeing not just conversation but movement.

But the movement is in some ways chimerical. It’s about a symbol — and now the progress on the symbol needs to be matched by progress on racial inequality in daily life.

America’s greatest shame in 2015 is not a piece of cloth. It’s that a black boy has a life expectancy five years shorter than a white boy. It’s that the net worth of the average black household in 2011 was $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to census data.

It’s that almost two-thirds of black children grow up in low-income families. It’s that more than one-third of inner-city black kids suffer lead poisoning (and thus often lifelong brain impairment), mostly from old lead paint in substandard housing.

More consequential than that flag is our flawed system of school finance that perpetuates inequity. Black students in America are much less likely than whites to attend schools offering advanced science and math courses.

The one public system in which America goes out of its way to provide services to African-Americans is prison. Partly because of our disastrous experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

So I’m all for celebrating the drawing down of the Confederate battle flag, but now let’s pivot from symbolic moves to substantial ones.

That means, for example, early childhood programs, which offer the most cost-effective interventions to create a more even starting line. These include home visitation, high-quality preschool and literacy programs.

A Stanford University randomized trial examined a simple, inexpensive program called Ready4K!, which simply sent three text messages a week to parents to encourage them to read to their preschoolers — and it was astonishingly successful. Parents read more to children, who then experienced learning gains — and this was particularly true of black and Hispanic children. And because this was text messaging, the cost was less than $1 a family for the whole school year.

So, sure, good riddance to Confederate flags across the country! And then let’s swivel to address the larger national disgrace: In 2015, so many children still don’t have an equal shot at life because of the color of their skin.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Is it my imagination, or are half the governors in the country running for president?

On the Republican side they’re piling up like … those huge stacks of walruses we see off the coast of Alaska now that there’s global warming. A stack of governors! Different from the walruses only in 1) lack of tusks, and 2) failure to believe that melting ice floes are a serious problem.

This week Bobby Jindal (Louisiana). Next week maybe Chris Christie (New Jersey). Sometime in July, Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and probably John Kasich (Ohio). We’ve already got a bunch of former governors in the race, like Jeb Bush (Florida) and Rick Perry (Texas). The guys who are still in office have been stalling, attempting to disguise their total disinterest in their current jobs until a state budget is passed. Although Walker, in a stroke of true political genius, has decided that really means the day the budget is supposed to be passed.

That’s Wisconsin’s problem. Our question for today is what we can learn about our own national priorities from the governor-candidates God has given us.

Almost all governors brag about their economic development programs — hey, it’s economic development! But we could have an excellent conversation about how often these things really work. They’re frequently huge, thudding wastes of money. Louisiana, for instance, covers about a third of the in-state production costs for any movie that’s filmed there, a policy that will pay off only if it turns out that tourists visit New Orleans just because it was the site of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

“Louisiana sank more into ‘Green Lantern’ than it is putting into the University of New Orleans this year,” a state paper noted in December.

Next door in Texas, then-Gov. Rick Perry claimed that his Texas Enterprise Fund created more than 12,000 jobs with a $50 million investment in an institute for genomic medicine. It was actually more like 10 jobs once you stopped counting every single biotech job created anywhere in the entire state for the previous six years.

In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, he came up with a plan for biotech corridors that would spawn tens of thousands of jobs, transforming the state just the way Disney World did in the 1970s, except possibly without any pirates. Reuters studied the results and estimated that Florida state and local governments had anted up $1.32 billion and generated 1,365 jobs, or $1 million per new employee.

Often, the goal of these programs is to simply lure a business from one state to another. Then we get a battle of the tax breaks, creating a hole that will have to be filled by you, the ordinary taxpayer.

Ohio, home of potential presidential candidate John Kasich, offered Sears a $400 million deal to ditch Illinois and move to Columbus. Sears decided to stay put after the Illinois Legislature passed a super-emergency $275 million counteroffer. One economics professor suggested the company should pay Ohio a 10 percent commission.

“We’re disappointed that it didn’t work out,” Kasich said in a statement. “But it is very exciting that Ohio was in serious contention up to the very end, and that it took a special session of the Illinois Legislature to beat us.”

Honestly, this kind of thing ought to be unconstitutional.

The great irony here is that finding the lowest taxes generally isn’t a top business priority. What companies really want is to be near suppliers and markets. Maybe occasionally the C.E.O.’s house. “As a part of business cost structure, state and local taxes are about 2 percent,” said Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that tracks these programs.

But tax cuts do help make friends. In Wisconsin, the State Economic Development Corporation board — which Scott Walker used to lead — approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries, whose owners forked over $20,000 to Walker’s re-election campaign. As The Wisconsin State Journal reported, in return for the tax credit, Ashley Furniture promised to expand the company headquarters and keep at least half of its current jobs in the state for the next five years. Doesn’t that sound like a kind of low bar?

Under Chris Christie, New Jersey has handed out $630 million to get companies to move jobs to the woebegone city of Camden. Which would seem like a worthy goal, except that most of the jobs in question were already in the state — in fact, frequently in an adjoining neighborhood. “Most of the jobs coming to Camden are filled by existing employees who currently work just a few miles away,” reported The Associated Press. “Nearly all the recipients boast notable political connections.”

I think we have a topic. Nudge the governor pile and let the debate begin.

Blow and Krugman

June 22, 2015

In “In Charleston, A Millennial Race Terrorist” Mr. Blow says some are even hesitant to call the Charleston killings a hate crime, despite many signs that it was that and more.  Prof. Krugman, in “Slavery’s Long Shadow,” says despite changing attitudes on several fronts, race in America is an issue that won’t go away.  And today the New York Times is reporting that the campaigns of Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul got donations from the leader of an extremist group tied to Dylann Roof, the suspected gunman in the attack at a church in Charleston.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

“You don’t have to do this,” said Tywanza Sanders to the young man who suddenly rose and drew a gun, and according to witnesses, said he was there “to shoot black people.”

He had been sitting in the Bible study session at Charleston, S.C.’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for an hour, next to the pastor, debating scripture.

Dylann Storm Roof, the unassuming, boyish-looking man with the bowl-cut hair, replied: “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.”

Then he “took aim at the oldest person present, Susie Jackson, 87.” This according to Sanders’s cousin, Kristen Washington, as reported in The New York Times.

Roof opened fire, killing nine; Jackson was the eldest slain, and her nephew, Sanders, the youngest at 26. Four of the dead were reverends — one of whom was the church’s pastor, a South Carolina state senator, Clementa Pinckney.

This was a savage act of barbarism by a young man baptized in a theology of race hate.

There are so many threads to pull on this story that one hardly knows where to begin, but let’s begin here: Roof was only 21 years old. He is a millennial race terrorist. Roof was born in 1994, 30 years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

He had a white power flag fetish. He was once pictured wearing a jacket emblazoned with an apartheid-era South African flag and another flag of “Rhodesia, as modern-day Zimbabwe was called during a period of white rule,”according to The Times. Apartheid ended the year Roof was born, and Rhodesia became Zimbabwe long before that.

Who radicalized Roof? Who passed along the poison? We must never be lulled into a false belief that racism is dying off with older people. As I’ve written in this space before, Spencer Piston, an assistant professor of political science at Syracuse University, has found that “younger (under-30) whites are just as likely as older ones to view whites as more intelligent and harder-working than African-Americans.”

Racism is to social progress what cockroaches are to nuclear fallout — extraordinarily resilient.

Furthermore, there is a widely published photo of Roof sitting on his car with an ornamental license plate with Confederate flags on it. That is the same Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the state Capitol. What signal is South Carolina sending?

There is the thread of couching his cowardice as chivalry, framing his selfish hatred as noble altruism in defense of white femininity from the black brute. So much black blood has been spilled and so many black necks noosed in the name of protecting white femininity, and by extension, white purity. Roof is only this trope’s latest instrument.

Then there is the question of whether to call this terrorism. Terrorism, as commonly defined, suggests that the act must have some political motivation. (By defining it this way, we conveniently exclude that long legacy of racial terrorism as a political tool of intimidation and control in this country.) And yet, this case may even reach that bar.

Reuters reported Friday that the case “is being investigated by the Justice Department as a possible case of domestic terrorism.” But whether it reaches the legal definition of domestic terrorism (it has already passed the common sense definition), some conservatives have even been reticent to call it a hate crime, which it surely is, rather preferring to twist this massacre into their quixotic crusade to establish evidence of a war on Christianity in this country.

On Fox News’s “Fox and Friends,” one host called the killings “a horrifying attack on faith.”

Another anchor on the show chimed in, responding to the comments of a guest: “Extraordinarily, they called it a hate crime. Uh, and some look at it as, ‘Well, it’s because it was a white guy, apparently, and a black church,’ but you made a great point just a moment ago about the hostility towards Christians. And it was a church! So, maybe that’s what they’re talking about. They haven’t explained it to us.”

Oh Fox, there is so much that needs explaining to you. First, Roof was a member of a Lutheran church in Columbia, S.C. As Rev. Tony Metze of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church confirmed to the Huffington Post, “He was on the roll of our congregation.” Lutheranism is one of the branches of Protestant Christianity.

Beyond that, according to CNN, “a friend recalled a drunken Roof ranting one night about his unspecified six-month plan ‘to do something crazy’ in order ‘to start a race war.’ ”

CNN also reported that Roof confessed his intention to cause a race war to investigators. This wasn’t a war on Christianity, but a war on black people.

Roof was a young man radicalized to race hatred who reportedly wanted to start a race war and who killed nine innocent people as his opening salvo. If that’s not terrorism, we need to redefine the term.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

America is a much less racist nation than it used to be, and I’m not just talking about the still remarkable fact that an African-American occupies the White House. The raw institutional racism that prevailed before the civil rights movement ended Jim Crow is gone, although subtler discrimination persists. Individual attitudes have changed, too, dramatically in some cases. For example, as recently as the 1980s half of Americans opposed interracial marriage, a position now held by only a tiny minority.

Yet racial hatred is still a potent force in our society, as we’ve just been reminded to our horror. And I’m sorry to say this, but the racial divide is still a defining feature of our political economy, the reason America is unique among advanced nations in its harsh treatment of the less fortunate and its willingness to tolerate unnecessary suffering among its citizens.

Of course, saying this brings angry denials from many conservatives, so let me try to be cool and careful here, and cite some of the overwhelming evidence for the continuing centrality of race in our national politics.

My own understanding of the role of race in U.S. exceptionalism was largely shaped by two academic papers.

The first, by the political scientist Larry Bartels, analyzed the move of the white working class away from Democrats, a move made famous in Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Mr. Frank argued that working-class whites were being induced to vote against their own interests by the right’s exploitation of cultural issues. But Mr. Bartels showed that the working-class turn against Democrats wasn’t a national phenomenon — it was entirely restricted to the South, where whites turned overwhelmingly Republican after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Richard Nixon’s adoption of the so-called Southern strategy.

And this party-switching, in turn, was what drove the rightward swing of American politics after 1980. Race made Reaganism possible. And to this day Southern whites overwhelmingly vote Republican, to the tune of 85 or even 90 percent in the deep South.

The second paper, by the economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, was titled “Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-style Welfare State?” Its authors — who are not, by the way, especially liberal — explored a number of hypotheses, but eventually concluded that race is central, because in America programs that help the needy are all too often seen as programs that help Those People: “Within the United States, race is the single most important predictor of support for welfare. America’s troubled race relations are clearly a major reason for the absence of an American welfare state.”

Now, that paper was published in 2001, and you might wonder if things have changed since then. Unfortunately, the answer is that they haven’t, as you can see by looking at how states are implementing — or refusing to implement — Obamacare.

For those who haven’t been following this issue, in 2012 the Supreme Court gave individual states the option, if they so chose, of blocking the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, a key part of the plan to provide health insurance to lower-income Americans. But why would any state choose to exercise that option? After all, states were being offered a federally-funded program that would provide major benefits to millions of their citizens, pour billions into their economies, and help support their health-care providers. Who would turn down such an offer?

The answer is, 22 states at this point, although some may eventually change their minds. And what do these states have in common? Mainly, a history of slaveholding: Only one former member of the Confederacy has expanded Medicaid, and while a few Northern states are also part of the movement, more than 80 percent of the population in Medicaid-refusing America lives in states that practiced slavery before the Civil War.

And it’s not just health reform: a history of slavery is a strong predictor of everything from gun control (or rather its absence), to low minimum wages and hostility to unions, to tax policy.

So will it always be thus? Is America doomed to live forever politically in the shadow of slavery?

I’d like to think not. For one thing, our country is growing more ethnically diverse, and the old black-white polarity is slowly becoming outdated. For another, as I said, we really have become much less racist, and in general a much more tolerant society on many fronts. Over time, we should expect to see the influence of dog-whistle politics decline.

But that hasn’t happened yet. Every once in a while you hear a chorus of voices declaring that race is no longer a problem in America. That’s wishful thinking; we are still haunted by our nation’s original sin.

Blow and Kristof

June 18, 2015

In “The Delusions of Dolezal” Mr. Blow says her performance of blackness may have been born of affinity, but was based on a lie. It’s a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection.  Mr. Kristof, in “Malachi’s World,” says this year’s win-a-trip journey starts with a stop in Baltimore to look at some of the challenges presented by poverty here at home.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Rachel Dolezal, a woman with no known black heritage, has apparently, through an elaborate scheme of deception and denial, claimed for years to be a product of black heritage.

This has sparked a national conversation about how race is constructed and enforced, to what extent it is cultural and experiential, and whether it is mutable and adoptable.

If this were simply a matter of a person appreciating, emulating or even appropriating the presentation and performance of a race other than the one society prescribes to her based simply on her appearance, it wouldn’t be a story.

But this isn’t simply that. This is about privilege, deceitful performance and a tortured attempt to avoid truth and confession by co-opting the language of struggle, infusing labyrinthine logic with the authority of the academy, and coat-tailing very real struggles of transgender people and transracial adoptees to defend one’s deception.

This is a spectacular exercise in hubris, narcissism and deflection.

And we have been distracted from real conversation about real things in order to try to contextualize a false life based on a false premise. For a moment, blackface seemed to matter more than actual black lives.

On this issue of appearance, Ezra Dolezal, her adopted brother, hasdescribed her transformation as a form of “blackface.” When Matt Lauer asked, “Have you done something to darken your complexion?” she responded, “I certainly don’t stay out of the sun.” (TMZ reportedWednesday that according to their “tanning sources,” Dolezal was a “loyal customer at Palm Beach Tan in Spokane” and “was a fan of Mystic Tan…a brand of spray tan.” Make of all that what you will.)

Dolezal added: “This is not some freak ‘Birth of a Nation’ mockery blackface performance. This is on a very real, connected level.”

Full stop. Let’s just marvel at the efficient catchphrase saturation in those sentences. She takes the whole universe of possible attacks and issues them in her own tongue as a method of neutralizing them. It is a clever, if calculated, bit of argumentation, the kind that one might practice in a mirror.

But Dolezal didn’t stop there. She also told the MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry, “I have really gone there with the experience, in terms of being a mother of two black sons and really owning what it means to experience and live blackness.”

Yes, but she did so by choice and with a trap door. She was always aware that she could remove her weave and stop tanning (assuming that’s true) and return to what society registers as whiteness. People of actual black heritage don’t have that option. Her sons don’t have that option. And make no mistake: Having that option is a privilege.

The whole notion of “transracial” as it has been applied to Dolezal is flawed in part because it isn’t equally available to all.

Whiteness in this country has historically been incredibly narrowly drawn to protect its purity, and this was not simply enforced by social mores, but also by law. Conversely, blackness was broadly drawn, serving as something of a collecting pool for anyone with even the most minute detectable and provable Negro ancestry. If you weren’t 100 percent white, you were black.

This meant that society became accustomed to blackness presenting visually in an infinite spectrum of possibilities, from pass-for-white lightness to obsidian darkness lacking all ambiguity.

This means that the way Dolezal was able to convincingly present and perform blackness as a light-skinned black woman is a form of one-directional privilege that simply isn’t available to a black person starting at the other end of the melanin spectrum.

Racial passing has been a societal feature probably for as long as race has been a societal construct. But it was more often practiced by a person who was not purely white by heritage passing herself or himself off as such. In some ways, this may have been understandable, even if distasteful, as these people identified as white in a society that privileged whiteness and devalued, diminished or attempted to destroy — both spiritually and physically — others.

Choosing a life of privilege over one of oppression must have seemed particularly attractive to some, particularly to those whose parents are different races and who, one could argue, could make the most compelling case to identify with whichever parent’s heritage they chose.

But Dolezal wasn’t passing in that sense. She was commandeering and concocting a biography of burden to obscure the shift and lay claim to authenticity.

According to a report in The Washington Post, however, the transracial-adoption (“when a child of one race is adopted by the family of another”) community has not taken kindly to being linked to Dolezal’s deception. Kimberly McKee, the assistant director of the Korean-American Adoptee Adoptive Parent Network and a professor at Grand Valley State University where she studies transracial adoption, told The Post, “You’re turning something that is a historical experience into something that’s almost being made a joke.”

A letter signed by McKee and 21 other scholars and advocates made the point even more forcefully: “We find the misuse of ‘transracial,’ describing the phenomenon of a white woman assuming perceived markers of ‘blackness’ in order to pass as ‘black,’ to be erroneous, ahistorical, and dangerous.”

Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find scientific support for transracialism, as it is being applied for Dolezal’s deception and identity, as a legitimate area of serious inquiry beyond a sociological phenomenon.

How can one be born discordant with a racial identity if race is a more socialized construct than rigid, biological demarcation and determinism? In other words, how can one be born discordant with an experience one has yet to have?

At best, this appears to be an issue of having an affinity for a culture that grows around a social construct. That is because, to my sense of it, cultural race identity has more scientific grounding than biological race identity, and those cultures of racial identity are in fact a response to the structure itself. Some people perform in response to their privilege and others to their lack thereof.

In that regard, one can not only like and want to emulate the look of another racial group (though, one must be ever-questioning of oneself as to what motivates this, making sure that it isn’t the outgrowth self-hatred), but one can even prefer the culture that developed around that look.

But changing appearance and even cross-cultural immersion doesn’t alter the architecture of race that gave birth to and reinforced those differences in the first place.

Dolezal’s performance of blackness may have been born of affinity, but it was based on a lie — one she has never sufficiently recanted — and her feeble attempts to use professorial language and faux-intellectual obfuscations only add insult to the cultural injury.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof, writing from Baltimore:

Meet Malachi, a charming toddler I met here.

The first puzzle was that Malachi, at the age of 2 years and 4 months, still doesn’t speak. He says only two words: “no” and “ouch.” He doesn’t say “mom” or “dad.”

That leads to the second puzzle: Where are his mom and dad?

Candace Williams, 26, Malachi’s caregiver, seems to be doing a fine job. She says that Malachi’s mom, who lives in York, Pa., has 11 children and a drug problem and left him with her.

Williams says the mom periodically asked her to look after Malachi but then wasn’t very diligent about picking him up. “I would have him for months at a time,” Williams recalled.

Then, on the boy’s second birthday in February, Williams dropped by to wish him well. She says she found food and knives on the floor and the house in chaos. At that point, she says, the mom handed her the boy. As far as Williams is concerned, Malachi is now her child to raise, although she has no papers to document that.

And the boy’s father? He is in prison for a drug-related offense, Williams said.

As for his inability to speak, that may be because he has tested positive for lead poisoning — an echo of Freddie Gray, the black man whose arrest and subsequent death sparked the rioting in Baltimore. As a child, Gray also suffered from lead poisoning.

It should be a scandal that lead (mostly from old paint) still poisons 535,000 children in the United States from ages 1 to 5, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disproportionately affecting poor children, it robs them of mental abilities and is associated with disruptive behavior and crime in adulthood. If this were afflicting wealthy kids, there would be a national outcry.

I’m on the first leg of my annual win-a-trip journey, in which I take a university student on a global reporting trip; we will go this fall to India and Nepal. This year I’ve added an American swing to look at domestic challenges. So my student winner, Austin Meyer of Stanford University, and I have visited Baltimore to examine the challenges of the inner city.

Some 58 percent of whites said in a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in late April that the riots in Baltimore were the result of “people seeking an excuse to engage in looting and violence.” Many middle-class and affluent Americans don’t fully appreciate, I think, the inequity and frustrations boiling in some communities across the United States.

Malachi exemplifies the challenges some kids face in places like this. Americans often say that poverty is about bad choices or personal irresponsibility, but Malachi himself hasn’t made any bad choices.

Sean Berry-Bey, who has known Malachi’s mother for years and for a time looked after other children of hers, firmly backs Williams’s account that the boy was neglected and mistreated.

When I reached the mother, she started to dispute all this and told me that Williams was just looking after Malachi for a few months. Then she declined to speak further.

I’m impressed by Williams’s commitment, and she’s getting no government assistance. Indeed, she recently lost her job as an armored truck driver — she says caring for Malachi interfered with her work — so there’s now greater financial pressures on the household.

It is easier, of course, to describe a problem than to prescribe a solution, and helping people is harder than it looks.

One valuable program is WIC, which provides nutritional support for women, infants and children. Yet because it gives free infant formula to low-income mothers, it unintentionally discourages breast-feeding.

“If I had to buy formula, with no WIC vouchers, I’d breast-feed,” Alia Brooks, a teenage single mom in Baltimore, told me.

In short, helping people is complicated. Yet we do have programs that help — not everyone, not all the time, but often. Indeed, WIC is among them.

We accompanied a health department lead abatement team that took lead readings in Malachi’s home and offered sage advice on how to get medical care and access to social services for the boy — and also provided steel wool to plug rat holes.

Lynnelle Boyd, a member of the team, also figured out that the family has an immediate problem: Williams may be paying rent to someone who doesn’t actually own the house. Boyd explained how to reduce the risk of eviction.

That’s the reason for our win-a-trip reporting journey in America, to underscore that global poverty and inequity exist not just in India or Nepal, but right here in the United States, still waiting to be addressed.

Blow and Krugman

June 15, 2015

In “Jeb Bush and Single Mothers” Mr. Blow points out that policies that fight poverty, provide sex education and encourage parental involvement would all help alleviate a crisis that needn’t be so severe.  Prof. Krugman, in “Democrats Being Democrats,” says the Davos Democrats who argued against progressive policies have lost much of their political grip.  Actually, the party lost its grip and its mind when they ran Howard Dean out of town.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, Jeb Bush was asked to answer for a passage from his book from two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” in a chapter titled “The Restoration of Shame,” in which he blamed the “irresponsible conduct” of births to unmarried women on a flagging sense of community ridicule and shaming.

Bush responded, according to MSNBC: “My views have evolved over time, but my views about the importance of dads being involved in the lives of children hasn’t changed at all. In fact, since 1995 … this book was a book about cultural indicators [and] the country has moved in the wrong direction. We have a 40-plus percent out-of-wedlock birth rate.”

He continued: “It’s a huge challenge for single moms to raise children in the world that we’re in today and it hurts the prospects, it limits the possibilities of young people being able to live lives of purpose and meaning.”

But, as a 2014 Pew Research Center report points out:

“It’s important to keep in mind that just because a woman has a nonmarital birth, that does not necessarily mean that the mother is ‘going it alone.’ For instance, in the U.S., more than half of births that occur outside of marriage are to women who are cohabiting.”

It is interesting that Bush answered that question while on a European tour that included a visit to Estonia.

That same Pew report reported that 17 European countries (Iceland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland and yes, Estonia) have higher birthrates to unmarried women than does the United States.

And according to a 2013 Unicef report, “Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,” all those countries except Latvia (Bulgaria was not included) had higher ratings of overall children’s material well-being (a measure of things like child poverty rates; child deprivation of things like three meals, including some with protein and fresh fruit and vegetables; books; regular leisure activities; some new clothes and properly fitting shoes; and whether the family owned an automobile, traveled for vacations, had a computer and had a separate bedroom for the child).

In addition to material well-being, almost all of them outranked the United States in children’s health and safety, education, behaviors and risks, and housing and environment.

We spend quite a bit of energy blaming births to unmarried women for our woes, but that is only part of the picture. The other part is the way we as a society treat those women and the fathers of their children. Instead of endless efforts to sanctify marriage, the emphasis should be on finding ways to support children and encourage more parental engagement from both parents, regardless of marital status. This includes removing all barriers and penalties for people, especially the poor, to cohabitate.

Our increasing level of births to unmarried women doesn’t have to be as much of a crisis as we have allowed it to become.

First, we should seek to reduce the level of unintended pregnancies in this country. As the Guttmacher Institute pointed out in February, about half of pregnancies here are unintended, and “unintended pregnancy rates are highest among poor and low-income women, women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women.”

This means that we must wrestle earnestly with poverty, as well as make a more comprehensive sex education and a full range of contraceptive options available, regardless of income.

People should become parents on purpose and not by accident.

Second, we have to examine how we have used the law as an instrument to push unwed fathers out of homes, particularly poor ones, rather than encourage them to stay.

As Elizabeth Pleck, professor emerita of history and family studies at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, pointed out in her 2012 book, “Not Just Roommates: Cohabitation after the Sexual Revolution”:

“The state has intruded on the personal privacy of many cohabitors, middle class as well as poor, but the intrusions have been more massive and have persisted longer when they involve poor people who are dependent on public aid. Is there a man in the house? The midnight raid of the early 1960s was the single greatest infringement on the privacy of rights of cohabitors in American history.”

Pleck continued:

“It was a mass search for ‘a man in the house,’ targeting welfare mothers and their boyfriends in order to throw the mother off the welfare rolls and to impose specific civil or criminal punishments on the woman and her boyfriend.”

The legacy of this punishment persists to this day. And it’s a rather odd turn since, as Pleck points out, cohabitation without formal marriage was quite common in the United States before the Civil War.

Maybe a deficit of shame is not our problem, but rather a deficit of common sense in advancing policy and promoting co-parenting.

All I have to say about Jeb Bush is that I hope someone finances Michael Shiavo so he can follow him wherever he goes on the campaign trail.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

On Friday, House Democrats shocked almost everyone by rejecting key provisions needed to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement the White House wants but much of the party doesn’t. On Saturday Hillary Clinton formally began her campaign for president, and surprised most observers with an unapologetically liberal and populist speech.

These are, of course, related events. The Democratic Party is becoming more assertive about its traditional values, a point driven home by Mrs. Clinton’s decision to speak on Roosevelt Island. You could say that Democrats are moving left. But the story is more complicated and interesting than this simple statement can convey.

You see, ever since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, Democrats have been on the ideological defensive. Even when they won elections they seemed afraid to endorse clearly progressive positions, eager to demonstrate their centrism by supporting policies like cuts to Social Security that their base hated. But that era appears to be over. Why?

Part of the answer is that Democrats, despite defeats in midterm elections, believe — rightly or wrongly — that the political wind is at their backs. Growing ethnic diversity is producing what should be a more favorable electorate; growing tolerance is turning social issues, once a source of Republican strength, into a Democratic advantage instead. Reagan was elected by a nation in which half the public still disapproved of interracial marriage; Mrs. Clinton is running to lead a nation in which 60 percent support same-sex marriage.

At the same time, Democrats seem finally to have taken on board something political scientists have been telling us for years: adopting “centrist” positions in an attempt to attract swing voters is a mug’s game, because such voters don’t exist. Most supposed independents are in fact strongly aligned with one party or the other, and the handful who aren’t are mainly just confused. So you might as well take a stand for what you believe in.

But the party’s change isn’t just about politics, it’s also about policy.

On one side, the success of Obamacare and related policies — millions covered for substantially less than expected, surprisingly effective cost control for Medicare — have helped to inoculate the party against blanket assertions that government programs never work. And on the other side, the Davos Democrats who used to be a powerful force arguing against progressive policies have lost much of their credibility.

I’m referring to the kind of people — many, though not all, from Wall Street — who go to lots of international meetings where they assure each other that prosperity is all about competing in the global economy, and that this means supporting trade agreements and cutting social spending. Such people have influence in part because of their campaign contributions, but also because of the belief that they really know how the world works.

As it turns out, however, they don’t. In the 1990s the purported wise men blithely assured us that we had nothing to fear from financial deregulation; we did. After crisis struck, thanks in large part to that very deregulation, they warned us that we should be very afraid of bond investors, who would punish America for its budget deficits; they didn’t. So why believe them when they insist that we must approve an unpopular trade deal?

And this loss of credibility means that if Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House she’ll govern very differently from the way her husband did in the 1990s.

As I said, you can describe all of this as a move to the left, but there’s more to it than that — and it’s not at all symmetric to the Republican move right. Democrats are adopting ideas that work and rejecting ideas that don’t, whereas Republicans are doing the opposite.

And no, I’m not being unfair. Obamacare, which was once a conservative idea, is working better than even supporters expected; so Democrats are committed to defending its achievements, while Republicans are more fanatical than ever in their efforts to destroy it. Modestly higher taxes on the wealthy haven’t hurt the economy, while promises that tax cuts will have magical effects have proved disastrously wrong; so Democrats have become more comfortable with a modest tax-and-spend agenda, while Republicans are more firmly in the grip of tax-cutting cranks than ever. And so on down the line.

Of course, changes in ideology matter only to the extent that they can influence policy. And while the electoral odds probably favor Mrs. Clinton, and Democrats could retake the Senate, they have very little chance of retaking the House. So changes in the Democratic Party may take a while to change America as a whole. But something important is happening, and in the long run it will matter a great deal.

Blow and Krugman

June 8, 2015

In “Black Dads Are Doing Best Of All” Mr. Blow tells us that the stereotypes surrounding black men and their families are not borne out by the facts.  In “Fighting the Derp” Prof. Krugman says beware those telling you what you want to hear.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

One of the most persistent statistical bludgeons of people who want to blame black people for any injustice or inequity they encounter is this: According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(C.D.C.), in 2013 in nearly 72 percent of births to non-Hispanic black women, the mothers were unmarried.

It has always seemed to me that embedded in the “If only black men would marry the women they have babies with…” rhetoric was a more insidious suggestion: that there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community “dysfunction.”

There is an astounding amount of mythology loaded into this stereotype, one that echoes a history of efforts to rob black masculinity of honor and fidelity.

Josh Levs points this out in his new book, “All In,” in a chapter titled “How Black Dads Are Doing Best of All (But There’s Still a Crisis).” One fact that Levs quickly establishes is that most black fathers in America live with their children: “There are about 2.5 million black fathers living with their children and about 1.7 million living apart from them.”

“So then,” you may ask, “how is it that 72 percent of black children are born to single mothers? How can both be true?”

Good question.

Here are two things to consider:

First, there are a growing number of people who live together but don’t marry. Those mothers are still single, even though the child’s father may be in the home. And, asThe Washington Post reported last year:

“The share of unmarried couples who opted to have ‘shotgun cohabitations’ — moving in together after a pregnancy — surpassed ‘shotgun marriages’ for the first time during the last decade, according to a forthcoming paper from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Furthermore, a 2013 C.D.C. report found that black and Hispanic women are far more likely to experience a pregnancy during the first year of cohabitation than white and Asian women.

Second, some of these men have children by more than one woman, but they can only live in one home at a time. This phenomenon means that a father can live with some but not all of his children. Levs calls these men “serial impregnators,” but I think something more than promiscuity and irresponsibility are at play here.

As Forbes reported on Ferguson, Mo.:

“An important but unreported indicator of Ferguson’s dilemma is that half of young African-American men are missing from the community. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, while there are 1,182 African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34 living in Ferguson, there are only 577 African-American men in this age group. In other words there are more than two young black women for each young black man in Ferguson.”

In April, The New York Times extended this line of reporting, pointing out that nationally, there are 1.5 million missing black men. As the paper put it: “Incarceration and early deaths are the overwhelming drivers of the gap. Of the 1.5 million missing black men from 25 to 54 — which demographers call the prime-age years — higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men in this age group are behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in the age group, one in 200 black women and one in 500 nonblack women.” For context, there are about eight million African-American men in that age group overall.

Mass incarceration has disproportionately ensnared young black men, sucking hundreds of thousands of marriage-age men out of the community.

Another thing to consider is something that The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates pointed out in 2013: “The drop in the birthrate for unmarried black women is mirrored by an even steeper drop among married black women. Indeed, whereas at one point married black women were having more kids than married white women, they are now having less.” This means that births to unmarried black women are disproportionately represented in the statistics.

Now to the mythology of the black male dereliction as dads: While it is true that black parents are less likely to marry before a child is born, it is not true that black fathers suffer a pathology of neglect. In fact, a C.D.C. report issued in December 2013 found that black fathers were the most involved with their children daily, on a number of measures, of any other group of fathers — and in many cases, that was among fathers who didn’t live with their children, as well as those who did.

There is no doubt that the 72 percent statistic is real and may even be worrisome, but it represents more than choice. It exists in a social context, one at odds with the corrosive mythology about black fathers.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

When it comes to economics — and other subjects, but I’ll focus on what I know best — we live in an age of derp and cheap cynicism. And there are powerful forces behind both tendencies. But those forces can be fought, and the place to start fighting is within yourself.

What am I talking about here? “Derp” is a term borrowed from the cartoon “South Park” that has achieved wide currency among people I talk to, because it’s useful shorthand for an all-too-obvious feature of the modern intellectual landscape: people who keep saying the same thing no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s completely wrong.

The quintessential example is fear mongering over inflation. It was, perhaps, forgivable for economists, pundits, and politicians to warn about runaway inflation some years ago, when the Federal Reserve was just beginning its efforts to help a depressed economy. After all, everyone makes bad predictions now and then.

But making the same wrong prediction year after year, never acknowledging past errors or considering the possibility that you have the wrong model of how the economy works — well, that’s derp.

And there’s a lot of derp out there. Inflation derp, in particular, has become more or less a required position among Republicans. Even economists with solid reputations, whose professional work should have made them skeptical of inflation hysteria, have spent years echoing the paranoia of the goldbugs. And that tells you why derp abides: it’s basically political.

It’s an article of faith on the right that any attempt by the government to fight unemployment must lead to disaster, so the faithful must keep predicting disaster no matter how often it fails to materialize.

Still, doesn’t everyone do this? No, and that’s where the cheap cynicism comes in.

True, the peddlers of politically inspired derp are quick to accuse others of the same sin. For example, right at the beginning of the Obama administration Robert Lucas, a Nobel laureate at the University of Chicago, accused Christina Romer, the administration’s chief economist, of intellectual fraud. Her analysis of fiscal policy, he declared, was just “a very naked rationalization for policies that were already, you know, decided on for other reasons.”

In general, anyone practicing some kind of Keynesian economics — an approach that, among other things, correctly predicted quiescent inflation and interest rates — is constantly accused of just looking for reasons to expand government.

But derp isn’t universal. There’s also plenty of genuine, honest analysis out there — and you don’t have to be a technical expert to tell the difference.

I’ve already mentioned one telltale sign of derp: predictions that just keep being repeated no matter how wrong they’ve been in the past. Another sign is the never-changing policy prescription, like the assertion that slashing tax rates on the wealthy, which you advocate all the time, just so happens to also be the perfect response to a financial crisis nobody expected.

Yet another is a call for long-term responses to short-term events – for example, a permanent downsizing of government in response to a recession.

And here’s the thing: if you look at what Ms. Romer and many otherKeynesians had to say, none of those telltale signs were present. They advocated deficit spending as a response to a severe downturn, not a universal elixir, and the measures they called for, like infrastructure spending and budget aid to state governments, were designed to be temporary rather than a permanent expansion (and the 2009 stimulus did, in fact, fade away on schedule.)

So derp isn’t destiny. But how can you – whether you’re a pundit, a policy maker, or just a concerned citizen – protect yourself against derpitude? The first line of defense, I’d argue, is to always be suspicious of people telling you what you want to hear.

Thus, if you’re a conservative opposed to a stronger safety net, you should be extra skeptical about claims that health reform is about to crash and burn, especially coming from people who made the same prediction last year and the year before (Obamacare derp runs almost as deep as inflation derp).

But if you’re a liberal who believes that we should reduce inequality, you should similarly be cautious about studies purporting to show that inequality is responsible for many of our economic ills, from slow growth to financial instability. Those studies might be correct — the fact is that there’s less derp on America’s left than there is on the right — but you nonetheless need to fight the temptation to let political convenience dictate your beliefs.

Fighting the derp can be hard, not least because it can upset friends who want to be reassured in their beliefs. But you should do it anyway: it’s your civic duty.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

June 4, 2015

In “Romanticizing ‘Broken Windows’ Policing” Mr. Blow says some communities are being asked either to accept collateral damage in the war on crime, or complain about excessive force only to have criminals roam free.  Mr. Kristof, in “Chemicals In Your Popcorn?”, says here’s how lax U.S. regulation risks consumer health.  In “Old Age Versus Geese” Ms. Collins addresses the return of Sully Sullenberger and the Miracle on the Hudson.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There has been a recent spike in violent crimes, particularly shooting, in major cities in the United States. What precisely is fueling it is hard to know. There are more theories and conjecture than there is data. There may in the end be many contributing factors.

But that isn’t stopping the tough-on-crime, fear-mongering iron fist-ers from engaging in wild speculation and the revisionist romanticizing of “broken windows” policies — including the notoriously heinous and morally indefensible, not to mention unconstitutionalas-practiced, stop-and-frisk.

One of the most pernicious and slanderous theories is that protests over police officers’ excessive use of force, or “police bashing” as some prefer to call it, is responsible for the uptick.

As the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald put it last week in The Wall Street Journal, “The most plausible explanation of the current surge in lawlessness is the intense agitation against American police departments over the past nine months.”

Actually, “most plausible” is simply theoretical argumentation and not corollary proof of anything. And, it seems to me that this has the effect, intentional or not, of conflating protests with criminality, of smearing the blood running in the street onto the hands holding the placards, of shifting the burden of law enforcement from those charged with it to those who simply want equity in its application.

One facet of these theories is that criminals have simply been emboldened as officers become more diffident, fearing prosecutions for run-of-the-mill policing, or more sinisterly and conspiratorially, are purposefully engaging in “slow downs.”

First, I think it is actually a good thing for officers of the law not to assume that they will be above it. Each of us, including officers, should consider our actions, particularly use of force, before engaging. This is good and right. But if there are any officers intentionally restraining themselves from doing normal police work because citizens have protested over perceived excessive force, then those officers are guilty of a dangerous, unethical dereliction of duty.

As for protesters and police, it seems to me that most simply want the people sworn to protect and serve them not to feel impervious to accountability in cases of perceived overreach, particularly when it results in the death of a citizen.

People in general understand that police work is hard and that there are criminals in society. They understand that ours is a gun culture and that some of those criminals will gain access to guns. They understand that police will sometimes encounter those armed criminals and will have no choice but to use force, including deadly force, to ensure their own safety and the safety of society at large.

Recently, The Washington Post and The Guardian separately published extensive reports on the killings of people in America by the police. The Post identified “at least 385 people shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year” and The Guardian found that 408 deaths “were caused by gunshot” over the same period.

And yet, only a handful of these cases have spawned large protests or sustained national media coverage.

People have an intrinsic intelligence about such things. Outrage isn’t constant or random. It is conditional and precise.

The cleaving occurs and the hackles are raised when the person encountered is not engaged in a crime, or is fleeing, or is not armed and therefore poses no perceivable threat.

Furthermore, why is there such a racial skew in those particular kinds of force?

As both The Post and The Guardian pointed out, unarmed African-Americans were more likely to be shot and killed than whites or Hispanics.

People in these black communities, it seems, are being asked to make an impossible choice: accept the sprawling, ruinous collateral damage — including killings of unarmed black people — in police departments’ wars on crime, or complain about excessive force and attempt to curtail it only to have criminals roam free.

And there is one important distinction to make here: the criminals don’t work for the people; the police officers do. It is right and proper for citizens to demand accountability from people whose salaries they pay.

Mac Donald summarized:

“Contrary to the claims of the ‘black lives matter’ movement, no government policy in the past quarter century has done more for urban reclamation than proactive policing. Data-driven enforcement, in conjunction with stricter penalties for criminals and ‘broken windows’ policing, has saved thousands of black lives, brought lawful commerce and jobs to once drug-infested neighborhoods and allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.”

Watch carefully the rhetorical sleight of hand here. “Urban reclamation.” From whom for whom? “Proactive policing.” Some are dragnet policies that swept up hundreds of thousands of black and brown men in stop-and-frisk, although nine out of 10 had committed no crime. “Saved thousands of black lives.” This assumed that the drop in the murder rates from the 1990s and before was entirely attributable to policing and not also to cultural shifts, like the end of the crack epidemic. “Allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.” This depends in large part on the darkness of your skin and the economics of your community.

Arguments like these dance around delicately to keep people from seeing what they really are: racial pathology arguments. They are based on there being something intrinsically amiss in blackness or black culture that can be altered or corrected only by overwhelming, unrelenting force. It is an argument as old as the ages, some variant of: It takes the bullet and the billy club and the bench warrant to bring these people into obeisance.

What is almost never mentioned as contributing to criminality is the intersection of violence with concentrated poverty — rather than the racial pathology, which is the last redoubt of the intellectual seeking support for cultural condemnation.

How you view “broken windows” policing completely depends on your vantage point, which is heavily influenced by racial realities and socio-economics. For poor black people, it means that they have to be afraid of the cops as well as the criminals.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What do a pizza box, a polar bear and you have in common?

All carry a kind of industrial toxicant called poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, that do two things: They make life convenient, and they also appear to increase the risk of cancer.

The scientists I interviewed say that they try to avoid these chemicals in their daily lives, but they’re pretty much unavoidable and now are found in animals all over the planet (including polar bears in Greenland and probably you and me). PFASs are used to make nonstick frying pans, waterproof clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, fast-food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, firefighting foam and thousands of other products. Many are unlabeled, so even chemists sometimes feel helpless.

This should be a moment when government steps up to protect citizens. But from tobacco to lead paint to chemicals, industry has used donations, obfuscation and lobbying to defer regulation until the human casualties are too vast to be hidden.

PFASs are “a poster child” for what’s wrong with chemical regulation in America, says John Peterson Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, a research and publishing group in Virginia. PFASs are just about indestructible, so, for eons to come, they will poison our blood, our household dust, our water and the breast milk our babies drink.

Warnings of health risks from PFASs go back half a century and are growing more ominous. In May, more than 200 scientists released aMadrid Statement warning of PFAS’s severe health risks. It was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal backed by the National Institutes of Health.

The scientists cited research linking PFASs to testicular and kidney cancer, hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis and other problems.

Arlene Blum is a chemist whose warnings about carcinogens have proved prophetic. In recent years, she has waged an increasingly successful campaign against modern flame-retardant chemicals because of evidence that they also cause cancer, but she told me that PFASs “are even a bigger problem than flame retardants.”

The chemical industry acknowledges that older, “long-chain” PFASs are a problem but says that it is replacing them with “short-chain” versions that should be fine. It’s true that there is less evidence against the short-chains, but that’s perhaps because they have been studied less.

Americans expect that chemicals used in consumer products have been tested for safety. Not so. The vast majority of the 80,000 chemicals available for sale in the United States have never been tested for effects on our health.

Any testing is being done on all of us. We’re the guinea pigs.

Congress may finally pass new legislation regulating toxic chemicals, but it’s so weak a bill that the chemical industry has embraced it. The Senate version is better than nothing, but, astonishingly, it provides for assessing high-priority chemicals at a rate of about only five a year, and it’s not clear that the House will go that far.

Yes, of countless toxicants suspected of increasing the risk of cancer, obesity, epigenetic damage and reproductive problems, the United States would commit to testing five each year. And that would actually be progress.

For safety reasons, Europe and Canada already restrict hundreds of chemicals routinely used in the United States. Perhaps the danger of tainted brands and lost sales abroad — not the risk to Americans — will motivate American companies to adopt overseas limits.

Scientists are already taking precautions and weighing trade-offs in their personal lives. R. Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says he now avoids buying nonstick pans. Rainer Lohmann, an oceanographer at the University of Rhode Island, told me that he is replacing carpets in his house with wood floors in part to reduce PFASs.

Simona Balan, a senior scientist at the Green Science Policy Institute, avoids microwave popcorn and stain-resistant furniture.

Dr. Blum says she avoids buying certain nonstick products and waterproof products, but reluctantly uses a glide wax for backcountry skis that contains PFASs. “Every time I spray it on, I realize the chemicals will be in my body for a very long time and on the planet for geologic time, perhaps longer than mankind,” Dr. Blum said. “But I do enjoy a good glide when I ski.”

Some brands, including Levi’s, Benetton and Victoria’s Secret, are pledging to avoid PFASs. Evaluations of the safety of products are available free atthe GoodGuide and Skin Deep websites.

The chemical lobby is following the same script as the tobacco and lead lobbies a generation ago, throwing around campaign donations and lobbying muscle to delay regulation. The chemical industry spent $190 millionlobbying in the last three years. If only it would devote such sums to developing safer products, rather than to defending its right to produce suspected carcinogens.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Clint Eastwood is going to make a film about Sully Sullenberger, the pilotwho landed that US Airways flight on the Hudson after a flock of geese knocked out both the plane’s engines.

This news is going to lead us into an interesting discussion of the presidential election. We will also try to get in at least one more mention of the geese. Stupid birds.

Both the movie and the election are, in a way, stories about age. Eastwood is 85 — “at the top of his game, not to mention a global treasure,” said a Warner Bros. executive in a press release.

Some of you probably remember the fabled moment at the 2012 Republican National Convention when Eastwood interviewed an empty chair. It may go down in the annals of history as the worst performance ever by a global treasure.

But Eastwood seemed unfazed, and he went back to making movies, including the preposterously successful “American Sniper.” This just goes to prove that we live in a world in which the possibilities for growth or mutation are endless. Making a spectacle of yourself on national television at the age of 82 would seem to be pretty much a career-ender. However, there is nothing like a movie with a $543 million gross to trigger a new beginning.

Sullenberger’s miracle landing was about aging, too. It happened in January 2009. The nation had just elected 47-year-old Barack Obama president after a campaign in which he vowed to replace the stupid, overheated politics of the baby-boom generation with something more cool and transactional. We were all ready for a youth explosion.

Then Sullenberger, 57, brought his crippled plane down on the river while three flight attendants, aged 51, 57 and 58, coolly herded the passengers to a safe rescue on the wing. Suddenly, we found ourselves getting worried whenever we drew a wrinkle-free flight crew. Old was in.

Obama went on to accomplish many things as president, but that new-generation-politics transformation was definitely not among them. Now Hillary Clinton, 67, is the huge favorite to win the Democratic presidential nomination to succeed him.

Meanwhile, the Republican field is packed with people like first-term senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, both 44. Or Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a 47-year-old who has bragged that he could put off running for another 20 years “and still be about the same age as the former secretary of state.”

The obvious response to that is: good idea.

Rubio has been dropping multiple references to the election as a “generational choice” between the politics of tomorrow and people who are “promising to take us back to yesterday.” This is supposed to be a reference to Clinton, but it conveniently also works for 62-year-old Jeb Bush, one of Rubio’s main competitors.

Or really, for Clint Eastwood, although I have the feeling that any of the Republican candidates would be extremely happy to have Eastwood on their team. As long as he didn’t bring that chair to the convention.

“It’s a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency,” Senator Rand Paul, 52, said about Clinton’s candidacy. Now this is a woman who, as secretary of state, visited 112 countries, traveling nearly a million miles. You can criticize a lot of things about Hillary Clinton, but there aren’t many people better at taking the show on the road.

(Except — did you know that the Rolling Stones are on a national tour right this minute? Yes! Mick Jagger, the man who once announced “I’ll never tour when I’m 50,” was in Minnesota on Tuesday, killing time during a 15-city sweep. Jagger, 71, and drummer Charlie Watts, 74, visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where a staff member said they showed particular interest in the collection of American folk-art furniture. It is possible this was not how Jagger spent his time between shows in the 1970s. But still.)

Arguments over age and the presidency go back at least to 1840, when the 67-year-old William Henry Harrison was described as “a living mass of ruined matter” in one rather hostile newspaper editorial. And Harrison did sort of prove that age was an issue, when he died one month into his administration.

However, that was an era when doctors made house calls bearing leeches. Now our arguments over age can be a little more sophisticated.

Would you rather have a president with a lot of experience or one with new ideas? And what, by the way, are those new ideas? It’s going to have to be something more novel than reducing business taxes.

We’re electing a new leader to pilot our ship. Do we care more about quick reflexes or a seasoned response to crises? We can talk forever about redirecting the course. But, most of all, you do want someone who will avoid the damned geese.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

June 1, 2015

In “Surviving Child Sexual Abuse” Mr. Blow says we need to understand the nature of such acts and help the survivors, and not use the issue for political points.  Mr. Cohen has a question in “Wellness Trumps Politics:”  What is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? He says the political century has given way to the personal century.  Prof. Krugman, in “That 1914 Feeling,” says despite good intentions on both sides, it is not certain that a deal will be reached between Greece and its creditors.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last month came the news that Josh Duggar, now-former executive director of the Family Research Council’s lobbying arm and eldest son on the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” had apologized and said he had “acted inexcusably.” As In Touch Weekly magazine put it: “Josh Duggar was investigated for multiple sex offenses — including forcible fondling — against five minors. Some of the alleged offenses investigated were felonies.” Those minors apparently included his sisters. Duggar was around 14 years old when the reported assaults took place.

Last week, The New York Times reported that “J. Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, was paying a man to not say publicly that Mr. Hastert had sexually abused him decades ago, according to two people briefed on the evidence uncovered in an F.B.I. investigation into the payments.”

The F.B.I. announced their indictment of Hastert on Thursday, and The Times reported: “The indictment said that in 2010, the man met with Mr. Hastert several times, and that at one of those meetings Mr. Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million ‘in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against’ the man.”

There were quick and clamorous reactions on social media and some mainstream media about the irony and even hypocrisy of these conservative icons being caught in unseemly, counter-their-apparent-convictions circumstances.

I understand this impulse. The contradiction is newsworthy. That dissimulation must be called out. But we shouldn’t stray far from focusing on, extending help to, and seeking to be sensitive to the survivors and using these cases educationally to better protect other children.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I can say with some authority that no one should take an ounce of joy in these revelations and accusations. This is not a political issue, even if people — including abusers themselves — have hypocritically used it as one.

This is not the time for giddiness or gloating. Child sexual abuse is tragic and traumatic for its survivors — and that is where the bulk of the focus should always be.

When a child is sexually abused, it breaks bonds of trust. It is a violation of the sovereignty of the self and one’s zone of physical intimacy. It is an action of developmental exploitation. It is a spiritual act of violence that attacks not only the body but also the mind.

It can take decades, or even a lifetime, to recover if recovery is even emotionally available for the survivor.

Indeed, precise statistics on just how large the universe of survivors is are not easy to come by, because many survivors never tell a soul about the abuse. And, if they never tell, obviously they are not at a place where they feel comfortable seeking professional help to deal with it. This only compounds the tragedy. Furthermore, the nature of the abuse, the duration of it, the circumstances around it and the child’s relationship to the abusers can all impact how the child processes the abuse and his or her ability to move beyond it.

All of this means that we have to better understand the very nature of abuse.

It is often an adult in authority — an adult family member, a teacher, a coach, a spiritual leader — but often it isn’t.

As a 2000 Bureau of Justice Statistics report makes clear, although 14 is the single age with the most childhood sex abuse victims reported to law enforcement, it is also the age with the most abuse offenders.

According to the report: “The detailed age profile of offenders in sexual assault crimes shows that the single age with the greatest number of offenders from the perspective of law enforcement was age 14.”

Furthermore, “more than half of all juvenile victims were under age 12” and of that group “4-year-olds were at greatest risk of being the victim of a sexual assault.”

And timing is critical. For very young victims, assaults spike around traditional mealtimes and 3 p.m., just after school.

Also, the greatest number of serious sexual assault charges were for “forcible fondling in 45 percent of all sexual assaults reported to law enforcement.” Forcible rape came in second at 42 percent.

Lastly, while most sexual assaults occur in a home, “Young victims were generally more likely to be victimized in a residence than were older victims.”

Overall, childhood sexual abuse is a crime of access. An abuser needs access to the child, often without suspicion, to conduct the assault with the hope of not being caught.

Once we soberly assess the contours of childhood sexual assaults we can better understand the need for early conversations with children about body safety and ensuring that they have safe spaces in which to express themselves.

And, we can see these two recent cases as more than just political point scorers, but much more importantly as educational and cautionary tales that we can use to protect more children.

Now here’s Mr. Cohen, writing from Berlin:

The German capital on a sunny Sunday afternoon is about as laid-back a place as may be imagined. Couples lounge in the grass beside the Landwehr Canal in the Tiergarten, jugglers perform, kids on bikes in bright helmets zigzag through the throng.

The city, it seems, has not a care in the world.

Just back from the water there is a small memorial to Rosa Luxemburg, the socialist revolutionary murdered in 1919 by rightist paramilitaries. Her body was tossed in the canal. The murder presaged two decades in which Germany would be the crucible of a fierce struggle between left and right, Marxism and Fascism.

Across Europe, opposing ideas vied for the minds of the masses tugged into cities by industrialization, radicalized by the devastation of war, polarized by the Bolshevik revolution in Moscow. Politics was the battleground of capital and labor, industry and the proletariat. Rightist revanchists confronted Marxists bent on wresting control of the means of production. The Weimar Republic, aptly described by the novelist Alfred Döblin as a political set-up lacking “proper instructions for use,” was never free of political violence. Out of it, in 1933, came Hitler and his marauding SA Brownshirts. It did not take them long to trash every independent institution and turn Germany into a lawless dictatorship.

The Nazis’ first business was with the left — socialists and communists who, unlike Luxemburg, had survived. The first concentration camps, like Dachau, were filled with them. The battle of ideas had to be settled, the left extinguished. The Jewish question could be resolved later, even if Jewish leftists (or “Judeo-Bolsheviks” as the Nazis called them) were immediately the object of particular vitriol and violence, the fodder on which the SS prepared for the greater savagery to come.

All this was not so many decades ago. Yet sometimes you have to pinch yourself to be reminded that politics was the business of the 20th century and Berlin the epicenter of an ideological struggle that involved two world wars and the prolonged division of Europe. What, you may ask, is Rosa Luxemburg to Sunday lovers? And what does politics amount to today?

Most Westerners today are no longer driven by politics. By that I mean that they are no longer possessed by political ideas that they feel can change society. There is no great clash of ideologies. Politics in the 21st century has largely lost its capacity to inspire, or if there is a gust of inspiration (as with early Barack Obama) it proves illusory.

People are focused on other matters: personal health, spiritual health, wellness, diet, living longer, and the vast related matter of the health of the planet. Zen, yoga and the soul have trumped the means of production. Of course, wellness in turn raises the issues of climate change and energy consumption, questions that have considerable political content but are not political at their core. The political century has given way to the personal century.

That is one reason why the 20th century already seems so distant, why the Berlin of then and the Berlin of now appear almost unrelated and stumbling on a memorial in the Tiergarten so strange. The last century’s great battles no longer resonate. They bear little relation to people’s harried lives. They are almost quaint.

Technology has built links everywhere, binding humanity as never before, but it has also fragmented people into the solipsistic, magnetic world of their hand-held devices. These devices can be political tools that gather protest movements from Rio to Istanbul, but the movements tend to prove weak because leaderless. The devices are also numbing, isolating and depoliticizing in their idolization of self.

There are, of course, political stirrings in Europe. The political center, and the area just to the left and just to the right of it, seem dead, one reason for the rise of leftist parties like Syriza in Greece, rightist parties like the National Front in France, anti-immigrant nationalists from Sweden to the Netherlands, and big protest movements against the political establishment (of any stripe) like Podemos in Spain. At the heart of all this, it seems, is a sense that something fundamental is amiss in the economies of Western societies.

I said the personal has trumped politics in the 21st century. But of course the link between personal wellness and planetary health is not just about climate change or clean energy. It is also about how the planet’s limited resources are divided up. That division is heavily, and increasingly, skewed toward the very rich. When too much is concentrated in too few hands, a reaction begins. The success of Podemos, or in a small way of the left-wing message of Bernie Sanders in Iowa, is a reflection of this.

Politics is not dead, but it’s dormant, and Berlin remains a useful reminder of how virulent political ideology can be in a climate of social unrest.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

U.S. officials are generally cautious about intervening in European policy debates. The European Union is, after all, an economic superpower in its own right — far too big and rich for America to have much direct influence — led by sophisticated people who should be able to manage their own affairs. So it’s startling to learn that Jacob Lew, the Treasury secretary, recently warned Europeans that they had better settle the Greek situation soon, lest there be a destructive “accident.”

But I understand why Mr. Lew said what he did. A forced Greek exit from the euro would create huge economic and political risks, yet Europe seems to be sleepwalking toward that outcome. So Mr. Lew was doing his best to deliver a wake-up call.

And yes, the allusion to Christopher Clark’s recent magisterial book on the origins of World War I, “The Sleepwalkers,” is deliberate. There’s a definite 1914 feeling to what’s happening, a sense that pride, annoyance, and sheer miscalculation are leading Europe off a cliff it could and should have avoided.

The thing is, it’s pretty clear what the substance of a deal between Greece and its creditors would involve. Greece simply isn’t going to get a net inflow of money.

At most, it will be able to borrow back part of the interest on its existing debt. On the other hand, Greece can’t and won’t pay all of the interest coming due, let alone pay back its debt, because that would require a crippling new round of austerity that would inflict severe economic damage and would be politically impossible in any case.

So we know what the outcome of a successful negotiation would be: Greece would be obliged to run a positive but small “primary surplus,” that is, an excess of revenue over spending not including interest. Everything else should be about framing and packaging. What will be the mix between interest rate cuts, reductions in the face value of debt, and rescheduling of payments? To what extent will Greece lay out its spending plans now, as opposed to agreeing on overall targets and filling in the details later?

These aren’t trivial questions, but they’re second-order, and shouldn’t get in the way of the big stuff.

Meanwhile, the alternative — basically Greece running out of euros, and being forced to reintroduce its own currency amid a banking crisis — is something everyone should want to avoid. Yet negotiations are by all accounts going badly, and there’s a very real possibility that the worst will, in fact, happen.

Why can’t the players here reach a mutually beneficial deal? Part of the answer is mutual distrust. Greeks feel, with justification, that for years their nation has been treated like a conquered province, ruled by callous and incompetent proconsuls; if you want to see why, look both at the incredible severity of the austerity program the country has been forced to impose and the utter failure of that program to deliver the promised results. Meanwhile, the institutions on the other side consider the Greeks unreliable and irresponsible; some of this, I think, reflects the inexperience of the coalition of outsiders that took power thanks to austerity’s failure, but it’s also easy to see why, given Greece’s track record, it’s hard to trust promises of reform.

Yet there seems to be more to it than lack of trust. Some major players seem strangely fatalistic, willing and even anxious to get on with the catastrophe – a sort of modern version of the “spirit of 1914,” in which many people were enthusiastic about the prospect of war. These players have convinced themselves that the rest of Europe can shrug off a Greek exit from the euro, and that such an exit might even have a salutary effect by showing the price of bad behavior.

But they are making a terrible mistake. Even in the short run, the financial safeguards that would supposedly contain the effects of a Greek exit have never been tested, and could well fail. Beyond that, Greece is, like it or not, part of the European Union, and its troubles would surely spill over to the rest of the union even if the financial bulwarks hold.

Finally, the Greeks aren’t the only Europeans to have been radicalized by policy failure. In Spain, for example, the anti-austerity party Podemos has just won big in local elections. In some ways, what defenders of the euro should fear most is not a crisis this year, but what happens once Greece starts to recover and becomes a role model for anti-establishment forces across the continent.

None of this needs to happen. All the players at the table, even those much too ready to accept failure, have good intentions. There’s hardly even a conflict of interest between Greece and its creditors — as I said, we know pretty much what a mutually beneficial deal would involve. But will that deal be reached? We’ll find out very soon.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

May 28, 2015

In “The Rise of Social Liberalism and G.O.P. Resistance” Mr. Blow says as the nation’s views evolve, Republican presidential candidates remain stuck trying to out-conservative one another for the sake of primary voters.  Mr. Cohen, in “Sepp Blatter’s FIFA Reign of Shame,” says that to conclude Blatter should quit feels so obvious it’s not worth saying. But he’s so thick-skinned it’s worth saying twice.  Mr. Kristof considers “Polluted Political Games” and says here’s what can be done to bring the dark money of politics into the sunlight in time for the 2016 elections.  Ms. Collins says “Let’s Do Some Railing” and that one person’s waste is another person’s ride home.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is a fascinating phenomenon taking shape in America: As the country becomes less religious, it is also becoming more socially liberal.

It makes sense that these two variables should closely track each other, but the sheer scale and speed of the change is astonishing.

After a Pew Research Center report earlier this month found that “the Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing,” this week Gallup released a report that found that “more Americans now rate themselves as socially liberal than at any point in Gallup’s 16-year trend, and for the first time, as many say they are liberal on social issues as say they are conservative.”

Gallup has tested the moral acceptability of 19 variables since the early 2000s.

And, as Gallup found this week:

“The upward progression in the percentage of Americans seeing these issues as morally acceptable has varied from year to year, but the overall trend clearly points toward a higher level of acceptance of a number of behaviors. In fact, the moral acceptability ratings for 10 of the issues measured since the early 2000s are at record highs.”

Acceptance of gay or lesbian relations is up 23 percentage points over that time. Having a baby outside of marriage is up 16 points. Premarital sex is up 15 points. Divorce and research using stem cells obtained from human embryos are both up 12 points.

At the same time, the death penalty is down three points (within the four-point margin of error) and medical testing on animals is down nine points.

We as a country may still be engaged in a vigorous debate about the proper size and function of government, and about which parties and candidates could best steer America in the right direction, but one thing is less and less debatable: We are rapidly becoming a more socially liberal country.

This change poses a particular challenge for the Republican Party and its national aspirations, not so much at the congressional seats, many of which are safe, but for presidential candidates.

Part of the issue, as the likely candidate Jeb Bush put it last year, is that for a Republican to become president, he or she would have to be willing to “lose the primary to win the general” election.

It was a catchy phrase and everyone understood what he was saying: Don’t allow the Republican debates and primaries to drag you so far right that you will never be able to recover in the general election. But the problem is that there is no way to compete in the general without first winning the primaries securing the nomination.

And so, Republicans are now involved in another election season that feels like the movie “Groundhog Day”: trying to out-conservative one another to be in the good graces of Republican primary voters, who in many states can be disproportionately religious and socially conservative.

Take Iowa, for instance, whose February caucuses will be the first contests of the 2016 presidential cycle. As the Public Religion Research Institute pointed out earlier this month:

“Iowa Republicans are notably more socially conservative than Republicans nationally. Compared to Republicans overall, Iowa Republicans are more likely to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage (64 percent vs. 58 percent, respectively), and are more likely to say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases (68 percent vs. 58 percent, respectively). The social conservatism evident among Iowa Republicans is based in part on the large presence of white evangelical Protestants. More than four in ten (42 percent) Iowa Republicans are white evangelical Protestant.”

How do you win Iowa, or at least survive it? Some candidates may not focus their attentions there at all. They may skip it, as John McCain did in 2000, and instead focus on the slightly more moderate Republican primary voters in New Hampshire to deliver their first strong showing shortly after the Iowa caucuses.

For example, a March poll conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston found that more likely New Hampshire Republican primary voters are pro-choice than pro-life on abortion and more favor same-sex marriage than oppose it.

But New Hampshire is somewhat anomalous. It is the most conservative state in a very liberal northeast. Nationally, only 27 percent of Republicans are pro-choice, while 67 percent are pro-life, and nationally only 37 percent of Republicans support same-sex marriage, according to polls by Gallup in 2014 and 2015. At the same time, New Hampshire is the second most nonreligious state in the country — nonreligious being defined by Gallup as people “saying religion is not an important part of their daily lives and that they seldom or never attend religious services” — second only to Vermont. The nonreligious population of New Hampshire is 51 percent; for Vermont, it’s 56 percent.

But Iowa and New Hampshire would be only the first two of a 50-state slog through a Republican electorate that is not necessarily where the rest of the country is — or is going — on religiosity and social liberalism.

There is only so much skipping one can do. At some point, the candidates must face the most conservative voters and one voice must emerge.

This process has not been kind or general-election-friendly for the Republican candidates in the last couple of cycles. But there is no indication that most Republicans — either candidates or voters — have drawn the necessary lessons from those defeats.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

I was living in Paris in 1998 and had tickets for the World Cup Final but instead had to rush off to cover upheaval in Nigeria and ended up in a Lagos hotel watching France beat Brazil 3-0. The commentators were Nigerian, of course. After a couple of first-half French goals against a listless Brazilian side, they pretty much gave up describing the match. Instead they focused on how much money they thought had changed hands to secure France’s triumph. I laughed as the numbers spiraled upward.

The speculation — unfounded in this instance — seemed to me more a reflection of the Nigeria of Sani Abacha, the ruthless and massively corrupt leader who had just died, than of the state of global soccer. In Nigeria back then, nothing moved without payment of a bribe. Now, however, I am not so sure. Those commentators were onto something larger than the match itself. Sepp Blatter, once described by The Guardian as “the most successful non-homicidal dictator of the past century,” had been elected the month before as president of FIFA, soccer’s governing body, in a ballot marked by allegations of cash handouts of $50,000 to African delegates in a Paris hotel. It was the start of Blatter’s 17-year (and counting) reign of shame over the world’s most popular game. He is a man without conscience.

Another unrelated soccer memory stirred at the news of the arrest in Zurich of several top FIFA officials on bribery, fraud and money laundering charges brought by the United States Justice Department. It was of standing 30 years ago at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels with my friends Patrick Wintour of The Guardian and Ed Vulliamy of The Observer. We watched as Liverpool fans charged Juventus fans gathered in the Z-block of the ground. There was a sickening inevitability about what happened as the Juventus supporters were crushed against terrace barriers that collapsed and then a concrete wall.

Later Wintour and Vulliamy filed a report: “We heard a muted but ghastly thud, like quarry dynamited at a distance. It was the sound of tons of concrete and scores of bodies plunging over the edge of the terracing.” You knew. People were dying. There were, in the end, 39 dead, most of them Juventus fans. The match went ahead, a ghastly farce.

It is not true that everything has gotten worse in global soccer under Blatter. Safety has improved and, yes, the World Cup has been held in Africa. But just about everything has. To conclude that Blatter should quit rather than embark on a fifth term as FIFA president (assuming his seemingly inevitable election to a fifth term on Friday) feels so blindingly obvious that it’s not worth saying. But then the FIFA president is so thick-skinned it’s actually worth saying twice: Mr. Blatter, your time is up.

Why? Because the corruption charges against current and former FIFA vice presidents and others reflect an organization rotten to its core, operating in the absence of any meaningful oversight, without term limits for a president whose salary is of course unknown (but estimated by Bloomberg to be “in the low double-digit” millions), overseeing $5.72 billion in partially unaccounted revenue for the four years to December 2014, governing a sport in which matches and World Cup venues and in fact just about everything appears to have been up for sale, burying a report it commissioned by a former United States attorney into the bidding process for the next two World Cups, and generally operating in a culture of cavalier disdain personified by Blatter, whose big cash awards to soccer federations in poorer countries have turned the delegates from many of FIFA’s 209 member associations into his fawning acolytes.

Among those charged is Jeffrey Webb, the successor to Jack Warner as the head of the North and Central American and Caribbean regional confederation within FIFA. Warner was also charged. When Warner’s corruption became so outlandish that he was forced to step down a few years ago, Blatter’s FIFA maintained a presumption of innocence. Enough said.

Bribery occurred “over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who has supervised the investigation from the days when she was the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York. That sounds about right. The Office of the attorney general of Switzerland has opened a separate criminal investigation into the selection of Russia to host the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the 2022 World Cup.

Just because Russia and Qatar are gas-rich (and back in 1998 a Qatari businessman provided Blatter with a private jet for his first FIFA election campaign) does not mean the process was corrupt. Of course it does not. But that Swiss criminal investigation is thoroughly warranted — and the first requisite for making it thorough, transparent and credible is Blatter’s immediate departure.

Now we get to Mr. Kristof:

I’ve admired the Clintons’ foundation for years for its fine work on AIDS and global poverty, and I’ve moderated many panels at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. Yet with each revelation of failed disclosures or the appearance of a conflict of interest from speaking fees of $500,000 for the former president, I have wondered: What were they thinking?

But the problem is not precisely the Clintons. It’s our entire disgraceful money-based political system. Look around:

• Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey accepted flights and playoff tickets from the Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, who has business interests Christie can affect.

• Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has received financial assistance from a billionaire, Norman Braman, and has channeled public money to Braman’s causes.

• Jeb Bush likely has delayed his formal candidacy because then he would have to stop coordinating with his “super PAC” and raising money for it. He is breaching at least the spirit of the law.

When problems are this widespread, the problem is not crooked individuals but perverse incentives from a rotten structure.

“There is a systemic corruption here,” says Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign money. “It’s kind of baked in.”

Most politicians are good people. Then they discover that money is the only fuel that makes the system work and sometimes step into the bog themselves.

Money isn’t a new problem, of course. John F. Kennedy was accused of using his father’s wealth to buy elections. In response, he joked that he had received the following telegram from his dad: “Don’t buy another vote. I won’t pay for a landslide!”

Yet Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now chairman of the national governing board of Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group,notes that inequality has hugely exacerbated the problem. Billionaires adopt presidential candidates as if they were prize racehorses. Yet for them, it’s only a hobby expense.

For example, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson donated $92 million to super PACs in the 2012 election cycle; as a share of their net worth, that was equivalent to $300 from the median American family. So a multibillionaire can influence a national election for the same sacrifice an average family bears in, say, a weekend driving getaway.

Money doesn’t always succeed, of course, and billionaires often end up wasting money on campaigns. According to The San Jose Mercury News, Meg Whitman spent $43 per vote in her failed campaign for governor of California in 2010, mostly from her own pocket. But Michael Bloomberg won his 2009 re-election campaign for mayor of New York City after,according to the New York Daily News, spending $185 of his own money per vote.

The real bargain is lobbying — and that’s why corporations spend 13 times as much lobbying as they do contributing to campaigns, by the calculations of Lee Drutman, author of a recent book on lobbying.

The health care industry hires about five times as many lobbyists as there are members of Congress. That’s a shrewd investment. Drug company lobbyists have prevented Medicare from getting bulk discounts, amounting to perhaps $50 billion a year in extra profits for the sector.

Likewise, lobbying has carved out the egregious carried interest tax loophole, allowing many financiers to pay vastly reduced tax rates. In that respect, money in politics both reflects inequality and amplifies it.

Lobbyists exert influence because they bring a potent combination of expertise and money to the game. They gain access, offer a well-informed take on obscure issues — and, for a member of Congress, you think twice before biting the hand that feeds you.

The Supreme Court is partly to blame for the present money game, for its misguided rulings that struck down limits in campaign spending by corporations and unions and the overall political donation cap for individuals.

Still, President Obama could take one step that would help: an executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose all political contributions.

“President Obama could bring the dark money into the sunlight in time for the 2016 election,” notes Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “It’s the single most tangible thing anyone could do to expose the dark money that is now polluting politics.”

I’ve covered corrupt regimes all over the world, and I find it ineffably sad to come home and behold institutionalized sleaze in the United States.

Reich told me that for meaningful change to arrive, “voters need to reach a point of revulsion.” Hey, folks, that time has come.

And last but not least we have Ms. Collins:

Just before Congress slunk away for the three-day weekend — which it was, of course, planning to stretch into a week — senators from the Northeast held a press conference to denounce Republicans for underfunding Amtrak passenger rail service.

“Amtrak has some infrastructure that is so old it was built and put into service when Jesse James and Butch Cassidy were still alive and robbing trains,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

“In Connecticut we have a bridge that was built when Grover Cleveland was president,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Now you have to admit, this is pretty compelling. Especially if you merge them together and envision Butch Cassidy and Grover Cleveland robbing commuters on the Acela Express.

The Northeast corridor from Boston to Washington is the centerpiece of the nation’s commuter rail system. It carries more people than the airlines, makes a profit, and takes an ungodly number of cars off extremely crowded highways. However, it needs $21 billion of work on its bridges, tunnels, tracks and equipment.

We’ve all been thinking about it since the terrible derailment in Philadelphia earlier this month. In a moment of stupendously bad timing, House Republicans chose the day after the accident to cut more than $1 billion from the $2.45 billion the Obama administration had requested for Amtrak.

Speaker John Boehner said any attempt to link the two things was “stupid.” As only he can.

Let’s take a middle road, people, and assume that while the Philadelphia crash might not be directly related to any funding cut, it’s a good reminder that running packed trains through 19th century tunnels and bridges is asking for trouble.

Amtrak is a managerial mishmash, trapped under the thumb of Congress, and also responsible for long-distance service across the country, touching cities from Chicago to New Orleans to Grand Rapids to Salt Lake City on a series of routes that are never going to make money. Conservative groups that call for the privatization of Amtrak are basically envisioning a system where the Northeast Corridor is left to fend for itself while the money-losing routes fade into history.

“Ideally, we would like to see all transportation spending and taxing devolve to the states,” said Michael Sargent of The Heritage Foundation.

None of the Northeastern senators at the press conference complained about the cross-country money-losers. Perhaps that was out of deference to their colleague, Dick Durbin of Chicago. Perhaps they instinctively understood that no matter what the drain, Amtrak has a better chance of political survival running through 46 states. It’s a theory that works great for the Defense Department.

Maybe the senators just had a national vision of what national rail service is supposed to be.

“It’s worth reminding our colleagues the Northeast Corridor is the only part that makes money,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut in a phone interview. “But that doesn’t mean I want to get rid of the rest of the system. If we only kept the portions of government that made money, there wouldn’t be any point to the State of Connecticut running a Department of Children and Families anymore.”

What’s your off-the-cuff verdict, people?

A) Save the railroad!

B) Prioritize! Every train for itself!

C) They can do anything they want if they’ll just get together and fix the pothole on my corner.

Wow, I believe I see a majority for the pothole. Remind me to tell you about how members of Congress just passed the 33rd super-short-term highway bill because they haven’t been able to come up with any normal road repair funding since 2008.

Transportation unites the country, but the crowded parts and the empty parts have different needs. Cities require mass transit, which is something that tends to irritate many rural conservatives. (It’s that vision of a whole bunch of strangers stuck together, stripped of even the illusion of control.) Remote towns and cities need connections to survive, even though the price tag seems way out of proportion to those of us who don’t live on, say, an Alaskan island.

Amtrak’s operating budget is about the same as the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes commercial air service to remote communities. Most of the flights are at least two-thirds empty. CBS News, in a report earlier this year, found one flight between Kansas City, Mo., and Great Bend, Kan., that generally carried only a single passenger.

Everybody knows that the government can waste money. (If you have any doubts, I will refer you to a recent report by Pro Publica about a glorious new $25 million, 64,000-square-foot headquarters the military constructed for American troops in Afghanistan even though said troops were going home.) But making money-losing links between different parts of the theoretically United States doesn’t seem to be in that category.

Fix Amtrak. Connect the country.

Won’t happen as long as the mole people rule.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

May 25, 2015

In “Restoring Memoriam to Memorial Day” Mr. Blow says our country keeps drifting further away from the spirit behind the holiday because fewer of us have served or have family members who serve in the military.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Great Unease,” says we have access to everything and certainty about nothing. The Day of Judgment has given way to days of endless judgment.  Prof. Krugman, in “The Big Meh,” says a growing number of economists, looking at the data on productivity and incomes, are wondering if the technological revolution has been greatly overhyped.  Oh, gawd, don’t tell The Moustache of Wisdom…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

This Memorial Day, as we head to the lake and the beach, grill and drink, shop and save, lay out in the sun or seek shady places, we must remain cognizant that the holiday didn’t begin as a day of celebration or commerce but one of solemnity and, indeed, memoriam.

As David W. Blight, a professor of history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale wrote in The New York Times in 2011, during the final year of the Civil War, a racetrack was converted to an outdoor prison for Union captives; “at least 257 died of disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

Blight wrote: “After the Confederate evacuation of Charleston, black workmen went to the site, reburied the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery” and the freed people, “in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged a parade of 10,000 on the track.”

He continued: “After the dedication, the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches and watched soldiers drill.”

Blight concluded: “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration. The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”

This is the history from which this holiday springs: honoring sacrifice. And honoring sacrifices can exist apart from endorsing missions. Many of our veterans have given life, and increasingly, limb for this country, and that must be saluted.

Some of our wars are those of disastrous execution, others of deceptive inception, some a bit of both, but they are all ours.

Yet we are drifting away from this tradition of honoring sacrifice. The public in general and the elected officials who have sanctioned and sustained our wars, sometimes over substantial public objection, have a diminishing personal stake on the battlefields — few of their own lives and the lives of their children, siblings and spouses.

President Obama isn’t a military veteran, nor are many of the presidential hopefuls who have declared or might declare a run for the White House in 2016.

Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders have never served. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal have not either. Only Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham and Jim Webb have.

As USA Today reported in 2012:

“In 2013, just 19 percent of the 535 combined members in the U.S. House and Senate will have active-duty military service on their résumé, down from a peak in 1977 when 80 percent of lawmakers boasted military service.”

The newspaper explained:

“The transition from the draft to an all-volunteer military in 1973 is a driving force of the decline, but veterans and their advocates say they face more challenges running for office in the modern era of political campaigns.”

As for the current Congress, as the “PBS NewsHour” noted in November: “In all, 97 members of the next session of Congress will have served in the U.S. military. That means less than 18 percent of the new congressional delegation served in the armed forces. (Note: This number includes one nonvoting delegate from the Northern Marianas.)”


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers