Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

November 30, 2015

In “Laquan McDonald and the ‘System'” Mr. Blow says recent killings by the police suggest that such violence has the implicit backing of society as a whole.  Mr. Cohen considers “Young Lives Interrupted” and says truth is more often the fruit of diligence than revelation, of discarding than accumulation.  Prof. Krugman, in “Inequality and the City,” says as the affluent flock back to the urban centers, there also needs to be enough housing for everyone else.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I spent Wednesday night following a gaggle of protesters through the streets of downtown Chicago. The air was unseasonably warm, but the sentiment in the air burned with a rage and revulsion.

Disturbing video had been released of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. He had been shot 16 times by Officer Jason Van Dyke. Most of the shots were fired when McDonald was no longer standing. Some entered through his back.

Shortly before releasing the tape, the Cook County state’s attorney, Anita Alvarez, announced Van Dyke would be charged with first-degree murder.

Broad discontent rippled through the crowd of protesters as people suggested a wide-ranging cover-up, from the $5 million settlement the city paid to McDonald’s family and its timing (it was reached days after Mayor Rahm Emanuel won a runoff re-election), the 400 days it took the prosecutor to bring charges even though the video existed, the silence of the other officers on the scene, and efforts to suppress the video itself. One young man with a megaphone led the protesters in a chant that went in part: “The whole damned system is guilty as hell.”

Truly, there are many troubling aspects to this case. But having covered so many of these cases in the last couple years, it strikes me that we may need to push back and widen the lens so that we can fully appreciate and understand the systemic sociological and historical significance of this moment in our country’s development.

While police departments definitely have distinct cultures, in a way they are simple instruments that articulate and enforce our laws and mores, which are reflections of our values.

The only reason that these killings keep happening is because most of American society tacitly approves or willfully tolerates it. There is no other explanation. If America wanted this to end, it would end.

The exceeding sad and dreadfully profound truth is that America — the majority of America, and that generally means much of white America — has turned away, averted its gaze and refused to take a strong moral stance in opposition. That’s the same as granting silent approval.

People try to pitch this as some sort of ideological argument, as an issue of blacks against the police or vice versa, but that is simply an evasion, a way of refusing societal blame for a societal defect: We view crime and punishment with an ethnocentric sensibility that has a distinct and endemic anti-black bias.

When black people are the focus, punishments seem to be more severe than when whites are the focus of the very same circumstances.

Let me give you one example of how this works: During previous drug epidemics — which were largely considered black and brown inner-city problems — lawmakers were falling all over each other to see who could be tougher on crime, in the process enacting racially skewed sentencing guidelines.

But, now we see a move toward sentencing reform, because as I noted in 2009: “According to the most recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, admissions of white teenagers to drug treatment centers for crack and cocaine abuse soared 76 percent from 2001 to 2006. Crack and cocaine was the only illicit drug category in which the number of admissions for white teens grew over this period, and in 2006 the number was at its highest level since these data have been kept. By contrast, admissions among black teens for crack and cocaine over the same period held steady. By 2006, white admissions outnumbered those for blacks by more than 10 to 1.”

Furthermore, under a headline that read, “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs,” The New York Times noted that “while heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.”

Even presidential candidates like Chris Christie have rallied on the gentler side of the drug debate. In remarks that went viral, Christie lamented, “Somehow, if it’s heroin or cocaine or alcohol, we say, ‘Aah, they decided it. They’re getting what they deserved.’ ”

Where were these people when young black and brown people in the inner city were being steamrolled by the ridiculous War on Drugs and having the book thrown at them? You see, we as a society make choices about what and whom we value and ask police departments and judicial systems to put those values into action. Police shootings are simply an extreme example of our disparity in valuation.

This can be overcome, and occasionally has been, but it requires a transcending of self-interested racial tribalism, an ability to see the issue as an intolerable human cruelty rather than as an acceptable and even warranted condition of another, and that can be a high hurdle to clear in this country.

As long as people who look like McDonald are disproportionately affected, and those who don’t look like him are not, it is likely and even predictable, based on historical precedent, that the terrible silence of enough people will continue to sanction this carnage.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

The second paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “A Way You’ll Never Be,” describes a cluster of dead Austrian soldiers encountered during World War I: “They lay alone or in clumps in the high grass of the field and along the road, their pockets out, and over them were flies and around each body or group of bodies were the scattered papers.”

That’s the whole paragraph, 37 words of telegraphic description. Yet the detail — the flies, the papers and especially “their pockets out” — captures the scene. Somebody has already looted those pockets. Hemingway was also a war reporter with an unerring eye.

Later in the story Hemingway writes of the “guns hidden under screens of mulberry leaves to the left of the road,” visible “by the heat-waves in the air above the leaves where the sun hit the metal.” With almost adjective-free economy, he has placed you there, in the carnage of a century ago, where the hot weather, indifferent to corpse of friend or foe, has “swollen them all alike regardless of nationality.”

Around the dead are “stick bombs, helmets, rifles, intrenching tools, ammunition boxes, star-shell pistols, their shells scattered about, medical kits, gas masks, empty gas-mask cans, a squat, tripodded machine gun in a nest of empty shells, full belts protruding from the boxes, the water-cooling can empty and on its side, the breech block gone, the crew in odd positions, and around them, in the grass, more of the typical papers.”

Show, don’t tell, goes the old writer’s maxim.

The papers — in this case prayer books, smutty postcards, and “letters, letters, letters” — stopped me. “There was always much paper about the dead,” Hemingway writes, “and the debris of this attack was no exception.” My late uncle, Capt. Bert Cohen of the Dental Unit of the Sixth South African Armored Division, 19th Field Ambulance, had said the same of the dead he encountered as he fought his way up the Italian peninsula in World War II.

I guess there won’t be any letters in the next war, just cell phones in the dust, the sand or the mud, their batteries dying.

Bert told me more than once of a column of Nazi dead he found on a bend in the Penaro River, north of Modena, on April 24, 1945. From his words and war diary, I wrote this description:

“Intestines of gutted animals ballooned from their carcasses. A squad of South African infantry marched through the ruins, bringing a bullet of mercy to animals that still agonized. One dead German in particular caught Bert’s eye: a blond, square-jawed young man with a long straight nose, hair flecked with blood and smoke, legs twisted grotesquely, abdomen ripped open, coils of gut spilling through a ragged gash into the dust, sightless blue eyes gazing at infinity. Beside the corpse lay scattered letters from the soldier’s mother in Hamburg. She wrote about Der Angriff, the Allied bombardment of the city that killed more than 42,000 people. Uncertain what to do, Bert returned the letters to the dead man’s pocket.”

Until his death last year at the age of 95, my uncle remained haunted by that single dead German and his letters. He dwelt on them as if he, a Jew from South Africa, might somehow have brought this handsome young man, Hitler’s model Aryan, back to life; and he wondered if he should have kept the letters to return them to a bereaved mother in Hamburg. He was a link in a circle that never closed.

I’ve been thinking of young lives interrupted, of the papers fluttering from the Twin Towers toward my Brooklyn Heights apartment 14 years ago, of the young Parisian who did not go to the Bataclan on Nov. 13 because his wife was pregnant and a dead friend who did, of the ways luck can run out. As a war correspondent I always thought you did not need good luck. You needed the absence of bad luck.

Perhaps if Bert had returned the letters he would have made a friend in Hamburg and seen something of the rebirth of that handsome city.

It seems, as we grow older, that we are haunted less by what we have done than by what we failed to do, whether through lack of courage, or inattention, or insufficient readiness to cast caution to the winds. The impossible love abandoned, the gesture unmade, the heedless voyage untaken, the parting that should not have been — these chimera always beckon.

What’s done is done but the undone is another matter.

David Bromwich, in The New York Review of Books, drew my attention to the Hemingway short story and wrote of the author’s “method of description that becomes a record of repressed emotion.”

There are too many words today, too much emotion, and too few letters. Truth is more often the fruit of diligence than revelation, of discipline than inebriation, of discarding than accumulation.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

New York, New York, a helluva town. The rents are up, but the crime rate is down. The food is better than ever, and the cultural scene is vibrant. Truly, it’s a golden age for the town I recently moved to — if you can afford the housing. But more and more people can’t.

And it’s not just New York. The days when dystopian images of urban decline were pervasive in popular culture — remember the movie “Escape from New York”? — are long past. The story for many of our iconic cities is, instead, one of gentrification, a process that’s obvious to the naked eye, and increasingly visible in the data.

Specifically, urban America reached an inflection point around 15 years ago: after decades of decline, central cities began getting richer, more educated, and, yes, whiter. Today our urban cores are providing ever more amenities, but largely to a very affluent minority.

But why is this happening? And is there any way to spread the benefits of our urban renaissance more widely?

Let’s start by admitting that one important factor has surely been the dramatic decline in crime rates. For those of us who remember the 1970s, New York in 2015 is so safe it’s surreal. And the truth is that nobody really knows why that happened.

But there have been other drivers of the change: above all, the national-level surge in inequality.

It’s a familiar fact (even if the usual suspects still deny it) that the concentration of income in the hands of a small minority has soared over the past 35 years. This concentration is even higher in big metropolitan areas like New York, because those areas are both where high-skill, high-pay industries tend to locate, and where the very affluent often want to live. In general, this high-income elite gets what it wants, and what it has wanted, since 2000, has been to live near the center of big cities.

Still, why do high-income Americans now want to live in inner cities, as opposed to in sprawling suburban estates? Here we need to pay attention to the changing lives of the affluent — in particular, their work habits.

To get a sense of how it used to be, let me quote from a classic 1955 Fortune article titled “How Top Executives Live.” According to that article, the typical executive “gets up early — about 7 a.m.. — eats a large breakfast, and rushes to his office by train or auto. It is not unusual for him, after spending from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. in his office, to hurry home, eat dinner, and crawl into bed with a briefcase full of homework.” Well, by the standards of today’s business elite, that’s actually a very relaxed lifestyle.

And as several recent papers have argued, the modern high earner, with his or her long hours — and, more often than not, a working partner rather than a stay-at-home wife — is willing to pay a lot more than the executives of yore for a central location that cuts commuting time. Hence gentrification. And this is a process that feeds on itself: as more high earners move into urban centers, these centers begin offering amenities: — restaurants, shopping, entertainment — that make them even more attractive.

We’re not just talking about the superrich here, or even the 1 percent. At a guess, we might be talking about the top 10 percent. And for these people, it’s a happy story. But what about all the people, surely a large majority, who are being priced out of America’s urban revival? Does it have to be that way?

The answer, surely, is no, at least not to the extent we’re seeing now. Rising demand for urban living by the elite could be met largely by increasing supply. There’s still room to build, even in New York, especially upward. Yet while there is something of a building boom in the city, it’s far smaller than the soaring prices warrant, mainly because land use restrictions are in the way.

And this is part of a broader national story. As Jason Furman, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, recently pointed out, national housing prices have risen much faster than construction costs since the 1990s, and land-use restrictions are the most likely culprit. Yes, this is an issue on which you don’t have to be a conservative to believe that we have too much regulation.

The good news is that this is an issue over which local governments have a lot of influence. New York City can’t do much if anything about soaring inequality of incomes, but it could do a lot to increase the supply of housing, and thereby ensure that the inward migration of the elite doesn’t drive out everyone else. And its current mayor understands that.

But will that understanding lead to any action? That’s a subject I’ll have to return to another day. For now, let’s just say that in this age of gentrification, housing policy has become much more important than most people realize.

Blow and Brooks

November 24, 2015

Mr. Blow has a question in “A Year Without Tamir:”  What has America become if we must have a sisterhood of mourning?  Bobo has extruded an extraordinary turd called “Tales of the Super Survivors” in which he gurgles that many people bounce back from traumatic events to be even stronger than before, and that there are reasons.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “Conservatives are always looking for ways to sell war to the general public, but this pep talk borders on the bizarre. To say that we emerge from attacks better than before makes it sound as though we’re embarking on a kind of cleansing ritual that weeds out the weak. We clean up the mess with parables and bandages, and soldier on.  We should recall that more U.S. soldiers died from suicide in the waning years of the Bush wars than from combat, and the toll continues to mount. Such wars began with a flagrant exercise of storytelling infused with moral purpose, but it’s the moral hazards that ultimately left their mark.”  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Cleveland:

On a cold, dreary Sunday morning, grayness envelops the city. Tiny pellets of snow and ice fall like crumbs of Styrofoam.

I enter through the back of Mt. Zion Congregational Church in East Cleveland, and there she sits, wearing combat boots and jeans, long braids framing her face. A pin commemorating her dead son is attached to her jacket. This is Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was shot to death by a police officer last year while playing with a toy gun in a park.

Samaria sits with a friend — another mother who lost a child following an interaction with the police — while her son, Tavon, towers over her like a sentinel. She had agreed to allow me to accompany her this somber day, the anniversary of Tamir’s shooting.

I ask her how she’s holding up. “I’m tired and I’m overwhelmed,” she says, “and I just want to go to bed.”

The church service seems to cheer her up a bit, as she claps and nods and rocks her body to the songs and the message. That is, until the pastor asks the mothers who have lost children to come to the altar. Nearly 10 of them stand before it, all black. Then he invites the congregation to come forward, to lay hands on them, to “touch and agree” as they pray.

The tears begin to flow. I pass Samaria a tissue as she takes her seat.

This emotional vacillation is quite familiar to me now, this sadness periodically breaking the surface before submerging again.

Since the killing of Trayvon Martin, I have interviewed many — too many! — of these mothers with holes in their hearts. There is an eerie sameness to the arc and articulation of their sorrow.

On top of this, these mothers are forced to share their children with the world, to suppress some of their own grief so that they can be a composed instrument to serve a message. There is also the disconcerting feeling of being famous because of another’s infamy, of being exalted for extreme loss, of having your voice amplified while your personal space feels invaded.

The impulse of people wanting to express their sympathy is understandable, but constant reminders of these mothers’ losses, particularly from strangers, can sometimes make them feel as if they’re drowning under continuously crashing waves.

I would meet more of these mothers through the course of this day.

There was Deanna Joseph, who said that last year her 14-year-old son, Andrew, was wrongfully arrested at the Florida State Fair, illegally transported — “kidnapped” was the word she used — then released in a strange area with only directions for how to walk back to the fair. Deanna said he was not allowed to call a parent to come get him. Andrew was killed when he was struck trying to cross Interstate 4.

According to Deanna, no one was charged in Andrew’s death.

There was Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones of Detroit, who was killed in 2010 by a single gunshot as she slept at home on a sofa. Officers had targeted the home for an arrest by mistake. With an A&E crew filming outside, they launched a flash-bang grenade into the house, and Aiyana’s blanket caught fire. Seconds after the entering the home, Officer Joseph Weekley fired the fatal shot. As The Guardian put it, “It went straight through the child’s head.”

After juries twice failed to reach a verdict in the case, criminal charges against Weekley were dropped.

Meanwhile, even after a year, the officers involved in Tamir’s killing havenot been charged.

These women have become a sort of sisterhood of traveling pain. They support each other and commiserate in their shared grief, a grief that only they can truly know. But as a country we must ask ourselves if we can call this a decent society if such a morbid sorority is necessary.

Still, of all the cases that shake my soul, Tamir’s case shakes it the most. It is an American tragedy of epic proportions.

After church, we travel to the gazebo near the Cudell Recreation Center where Tamir was gunned down. Samaria shows me how far it was from her front door, “about 100 yards.” She shows me the path that the police cruiser took when approaching Tamir across the grassy park, steering clear of a tree and a swing set — “like the Dukes of Hazzard,” as she puts it — not using the paved parking lot that we used.

Samaria freely discusses her own troubled past. She had a drug-addicted mother who killed a man with whom she was in an abusive relationship. Samaria had to testify at the trial. She was 12. (Her mother served 15 years in the penitentiary for manslaughter, Samaria says.) From 12 on, Samaria bounced around among caregivers, some of whom didn’t seem to know what the term meant. She discusses her strained relationship with her father and her own run-ins with the law. Through it all, she endured. She points to a tattoo on her forearm that reads, “Only the Strong Survive.”

It was because of her own troubled past, she says, that she tried desperately to protect her own children from trouble.

But the woman who experienced so much trauma at 12 couldn’t protect her son from an even worse fate at 12.

She recounted the events of the fateful day Tamir was shot. Two teenage boys she didn’t recognize ran from the rec center to her house to tell her that Tamir had been shot in the park. She says that she was initially in denial. “I was like, ‘no, my kids are at the park playing.’” But Tavon didn’t share her denial. He bolted from the house, racing to the park.

Samaria says that she put on her shoes and jacket and walked over to the park only to find out that the boys had told the truth. She arrived on the scene at the same time as the ambulance. “At that point, I went into shock, because at that point I’m trying to figure out: ‘What is going on? What happened? What did he do?’ In my head it’s like: ‘What did he do bad enough for you guys to shoot him?’”

She also realized that Tavon and her daughter Tajai, both of whom had raced to Tamir’s aid, had been detained by the police.

Then she had to make a nearly impossible decision: stay with the two children who had been detained, or travel to the hospital with the child who had a bullet in his belly. She went to the hospital, where Tamir died of his wound the next day.

Soon the vigil for Tamir begins in the park. I stand near the family. I try to imagine what it must be like to lose a child in that way, but I shake the thought loose before it sinks in. It’s too much to contemplate. Yet, as I glance over at Samaria, I realize that the unfathomable is her everyday companion.

Now the world waits along with Samaria to see what, if anything, will be done to the officers who killed her son, both the one who fired the fatal shot and the one who drove the car.

As Samaria put it, “I just want them to tell me what happened.”

And now, God help us, comes Bobo who I’m sure never read Mr. Blow’s piece.  Otherwise he never could have created this appalling POS:

The age of terror is an age of shocks. Individuals, families and whole societies get torn apart by unexpected stabbings, shootings and bombings.

It’s horrible, of course, but over the past few years the findings of academic research into the effects of these traumas have shifted in a more positive direction. Human beings are more resilient than we’d earlier thought. Many people bounce back from hard knocks and experience surges of post-traumatic growth.

In the first place, post-traumatic stress disorder rates are lower than many of us imagine. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 13 percent of the first responders on 9/11 had symptoms that would qualify as a stress disorder. Only about 13 percent of the people who saw the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in person experienced PTSDin the next six months. The best general rule for all of society seems to be that at least 75 percent of the people who experience a life-threatening or violent event emerge without a stress disorder.

Even many of those who are unlucky enough to fall victim to the horrific pain of PTSD are able to recover and rebuild better lives. These are people you sometimes meet who have experienced the worst in life but still radiate love and joy. They get to live a second life and correct the mistakes they made before the earthquake shook everything loose.

As Philip A. Fisher, a University of Oregon psychology professor, noted in an email, the big background factor that nurtures resilience is unconditional love. The people who survive and rebound from trauma frequently had an early caregiver who pumped unshakable love into them, and that built a rock of inner security they could stand on for the rest of their lives.

There are some foreground factors, too, traits super survivors tend to have that enable them to come back stronger then ever. These people are often deluded in good ways about their own abilities, but completely realistic about their situations. That is to say, they have positive illusions about their own talents, and an optimist’s faith in their own abilities to control the future. But they have no illusions about the world around them. They accept what they have lost quickly. They see problems clearly. They work hard. Work is the reliable cure for sorrow.

Recovering from trauma is mainly an exercise in storytelling. As Richard Tedeschi, a psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has pointed out, trauma is a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life. The recurring patterns that make up life are disrupted. The sense of safety is lost. Having faced death, people in these circumstances are forced to confront the elemental questions of life.

But some people are able to write a new story. As Tedeschi writes, post-traumatic growth comes not from the event but from the struggle afterward to write a new story that imagines a life better than before. Researchers have found that people who thrive after a shock are able to tell clear, forward-looking stories about themselves, while those who don’t thrive get stuck ruminating darkly about the past.

Book 1 is life before the event. Book 2 is the event that shattered the old story. But Book 3 is reintegration, a reframing new story that incorporates what happened and then points to a more virtuous and meaningful life than the one before.

These are intensely moral narratives that describe a life of higher purpose. Viktor Frankl survived the Holocaust and concluded that those who could best survive the camps were those who could satisfy their hunger for lives of meaning. Even if they were suffering, they could direct their attention toward those they loved and those they would serve in their future lives.

Frankl, who went on to become a professor of neurology and psychiatry, cited Nietzsche’s dictum that he who has a why to live for can endure almost any how. The stories super survivors tell have two big themes: optimism and altruism.

It’s interesting that this age of terrorism calls forth certain practical skills — the ability to tell stories, the ability to philosophize and define a meaning to your life. Just as individuals need moral stories if they are going to recover, so probably do nations. France will most likely need a parable to make sense of what happened, just as the United States still has competing parables about the meaning of 9/11.

This is why foreign policies that pursue amoral realpolitik are always impractical. If a country can’t discern a moral purpose in its foreign policy, it will lack resilience. It will lack the capacity to bounce back from an attack. It will lack a satisfying narrative and lose the ability to thrive in terror’s wake.

The good news is there is no reason to be pessimistic during the war on terrorism. Individuals and societies are tough and resilient, and usually emerge from attacks better than before.

He should be horsewhipped in Macy’s window on Thanksgiving day.  By Santa…

Blow and Krugman

November 23, 2015

In “Anti-Muslim Is Anti-American” Mr. Blow says demonizing a single religion is a slippery slope, with the danger of hateful acts getting progressively worse.  Oh, they will, Charles, they will…  Prof. Krugman, in “Health Reform Lives!”, says there has been some negative news lately about Obamacare, but it is still a big success story.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There seems to be no bottom to the cesspool of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from Republican candidates.

The tone of anti-Muslim musings post-Paris attack has become so poisonous that it cannot portend anything positive.

In the latest, the Republican front-runner said the United States would have “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques. And, when asked by a reporter, he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t have a problem registering Muslims, which many have condemned, comparing it to the way Jews were once treated. (After heavy bipartisan criticism, he tried to walk back his remarks about the registry.)

And then Dr. Ben Carson drew a tortured parallel between Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, and “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”

Robert McCaw, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations,told Al Jazeera that Carson’s remarks were “unthinkable,” saying, “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog — and that’s put it down.”

Indeed, this is the problem with reckless, racist rhetoric: Each utterance tosses one more log onto the bonfire that can burn out a space for the unimaginable.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his 1967 “The Other America” speech: “Racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide.” As King put it:

“If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him; if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job, or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.”

Whereas these candidates may not be conscious of this “ultimate logic” or in any way approve of it, it doesn’t make their language any less dangerous when it lands on the ears of the minorities on the margins, or those looking for a reason to gussy up their wrongheadedness with righteousness.

A 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study “found that in the most Republican states in the country, employers may be less likely to interview job candidates whose social networking profiles indicate that the applicants are Muslim,” according to Pew.

As Pew explained:

“In the 10 states with the highest proportion of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney voters in the 2012 election, 17 percent of Christian applicants received interview calls, compared with 2 percent of the Muslim job candidates. There were no differences in callbacks received by the Christian and Muslim candidates in the 10 states with the lowest proportion of Romney voters.”

Late last month, Lawrence Downes reported on a poll in a red state with this caveat:

“It’s just one poll in one Southern state, North Carolina, by one polling outfit (Public Policy Polling, or PPP) with Democratic Party ties, asking questions of a few hundred Republican primary voters.”

“But still,” Downes continued, these were the results: 72 percent believed a Muslim should not be allowed to be president of the United States, and 40 percent believed that Islam should be illegal in this country.

It is no wonder, then, that a 2011 Pew Research Center Muslim American survey found that just 11 percent of Muslims identify with or lean toward Republicans, while 70 percent do likewise for Democrats.

Furthermore, a 2013 paper co-published by the Center for American Progress and the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice found:

“A troubling trend is quickly developing in state legislatures across the country: In a thinly concealed attempt to inflame anti-Muslim attitudes, lawmakers in 32 states have moved to ban foreign or international law. The bans are based on model legislation designed by anti-Muslim activist David Yerushalmi and promoted by activists who have stirred up fears that Islamic laws and customs — commonly referred to as ‘Sharia’ — are taking over American courts. Although proponents of these bans have failed to cite a single instance where a U.S. court has relied on Sharia to resolve a dispute, foreign law bans have been enacted in Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arizona, while a related ban on religious law has been enacted in South Dakota.”

As the ACLU has written of these laws:

“Efforts to single out Muslims and to advance the ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American are unjust and discriminatory and should be rejected. Laws that single out Sharia violate the First Amendment by treating one belief system as suspect.”

This demonizing a single religious faith is a slippery slope. It feeds something that is at odds with the most noble ambition of this country’s better angels: equality.

The 2011 Pew survey found that among Muslim Americans: “Significant numbers report being looked at with suspicion (28 percent), and being called offensive names (22 percent). And while 21 percent report being singled out by airport security, 13 percent say they have been singled out by other law enforcement. Overall, a 52 percent majority says that government antiterrorism policies single out Muslims in the U.S. for increased surveillance and monitoring.”

We must put a lid on this corrosive language. Simply put, being specifically anti-Muslim is, in a way, anti-American.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

To the right’s dismay, scare tactics — remember death panels? — and spurious legal challenges failed to protect the nation from the scourge of guaranteed health coverage. Still, Obamacare’s opponents insisted that it would implode in a “death spiral” of low enrollment and rising costs.

But the law’s first two years of full implementation went remarkably well. The number of uninsured Americans dropped sharply, roughly in line with projections, while costs came in well below expectations. Opponents of reform could have reconsidered their position — but that hardly ever happens in modern politics. Instead, they doubled down on their forecasts of doom, and hyped every hint of bad news.

I mention all of this to give you some perspective on recent developments that mark a break in the string of positive surprises. Yes, Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.

Obamacare seeks to cover the uninsured through two channels. Lower-income Americans are covered via a federally-funded expansion of Medicaid, which was supposed to be nationwide but has been rejected in many Republican-controlled states. Everyone else has access to policies sold by private insurers who cannot discriminate based on medical history; these policies are supposed to be made affordable by subsidies that depend on your income.

Nobody ever expected Obamacare to cover all the uninsured. In fact, Congressional Budget Office projections made in 2013 suggested that about 10 percent of nonelderly U.S. residents would remain uncovered: some because they are undocumented immigrants, some because of the gap created by red-state Medicaid rejection and some because they would fall through the cracks of a complicated system. But the law was nonetheless projected to produce a sharp reduction in the number of Americans without insurance, and it has, especially in states like California that have tried to make it work.

Meanwhile, both insurance premiums and the cost of subsidies designed to make them affordable came in far below expectations in both 2014 and 2015.

Sooner or later, of course, there were bound to be some negative surprises. And we’re now, finally, getting a bit of bad, or at least not-great, news about health reform.

First, premiums are going up for next year, because insurers are finding that their risk pool is somewhat sicker and hence more expensive than they expected. There’s a lot of variation across states, but the average increase will be around 11 percent. That’s a slight disappointment, but it’s not shocking, given both the good news of the previous two years and the long-term tendency of insurance premiums to rise 5-10 percent a year.

Second, some Americans who bought low-cost insurance plans have been unpleasantly surprised by high deductibles. This is a real issue, but it shouldn’t be exaggerated. All allowed plans cover preventive services without a deductible, and many plans cover other health services as well. Furthermore, additional financial aid is available to lower-income families to help cover such gaps. Some people may not know about these mitigating factors — that’s the problem with a fairly complex system — but awareness should improve over time.

Finally, UnitedHealth Group made a splash by announcing that it is losing money on the policies it sells on the Obamacare exchanges, and is considering withdrawing from the market after next year. There were some puzzling things about the announcement, leading to speculation about ulterior motives, but the main thing to realize is that UnitedHealth, while a huge provider of employment-based insurance, is actually a fairly small player in this market, and that other players are sounding much more positive.

Oh, and official projections now say that fewer people will enroll in those exchanges than previously predicted. But the main reason is that surprisingly few employers are dropping coverage; overall projections for the number of uninsured Americans still look pretty good.

So where does that leave us? Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way.

But are we looking at the beginnings of a death spiral? Some people are indeed saying that, but as far as I can tell, they’re all people who have been predicting disaster every step of the way, and will still be predicting imminent collapse a decade from now.

The reality is that Obamacare is an imperfect system, but it’s workable — and it’s working.

Blow and Krugman

November 16, 2015

In “Race, College and Safe Space” Mr. Blow says there is a place for black racial sanctuaries, just as there is a right to combat racism itself.  Prof. Krugman, in “Fearing Fear Itself,” says Terrorists won’t bring down Western civilization, and the tradeoffs we make to counter it should not include giving in to the panic they hope to create.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them.

Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

All my life I have noticed black people, particularly elderly ones, subconsciously turtle down their necks between their shoulders or bubble up their personas beyond their comfort to countervail a perception, to set white folks at ease, to allay some ill-conceived fear.

The ultimate offense of it all — the contorting of body and behavior to offset the deficit in another. There is a spiritual injustice in the adjustment.

But now young black folks are refusing alteration or the mollification of conformity and are simply demanding justice.

There is now an implacable yearning for society to acknowledge anti-black racism and the oppressive forces it has generated and maintained — historical ones and present ones — and to work towards a culture in which those forces are blunted, or better, dismantled.

The time of placidity is at an end. This is a new moment, a loud, disruptive one.

Even black athletes, at least at the University of Missouri, are forcing power structures to bend to monetary pressure when moral pressure alone was not sufficient. The only question remaining is whether these emerging young activists have the endurance to stick with it until the work is done.

Urgency takes on another property, elasticity, when it is draped over time that is in no hurry, time that encompasses both the moment and the ages. Battles for social justice are more often counted in decades than days, and there are many little-noticed skirmishes before the grand battle. But a morally inviolable objective, like equality, is as deep as time is long.

There will be missteps, tactical errors, assailable symbols and an army of detractors and fickle allies ready to seize upon each and exploit them.

For instance, it was not wise or right for student protesters and a faculty supporter at Missouri to try and establish a private space, a media-free safe space, on a public one.

Indeed, public justice advocates have often used media exposure to great advantage in their struggles.

However, one must condemn the forces of anti-black oppression just as vociferously as one condemns black people’s responses to those forces, including when those responses extend beyond the boundaries of social acceptability and decorous propriety. Otherwise, one’s qualms are an overture to pacification and the propping up of the status quo.

You can’t condemn the unseemly howl and not the lash.

Furthermore, I fully understand the desire for safe spaces, for racial sanctuary, particularly in times of racial trauma. I have always had these safe spaces, not by black design, but as a byproduct of white racism.

I grew up in the rural South when racial segregation was no longer the law, but remained the norm. I have gone to predominately black schools most of my life, schools that began so or became so because of white people’s deep desire to resist racial commingling. But what was born of hate, black folks infused with pride and anointed with value.

There existed for me a virtual archipelago of racial sanctuaries, places — communities, churches, schools — where I could be insulated from the racial scarring that intimate proximity to racial hostility can produce.

That is, I assume, what these students want as well.

In Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s foreword to Harvard professor emeritus Martin Kilson’s American Book Award-winning 2014 book, Transformation of the African American Intelligentsia, 1880-2012, Gates quotes an interview that Kilson gave The Crimson in 1964. Kilson said: “I suppose we’re looking for a new Negro identity, a psychological process, which has its roots in a broader Negro community.” Kilson continued, “It’s true that Negroes, like anyone else, prize individuality. But the thing the compulsive liberal can’t understand is that we also like to swing together. You know, like we did in my good father’s church back home.”

At no time is swinging together more important than when the death threats start to come and media vultures start to circle.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Like millions of people, I’ve been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror. It’s the natural human reaction. But let’s be clear: it’s also the reaction the terrorists want. And that’s something not everyone seems to understand.

Take, for example, Jeb Bush’s declaration that “this is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” No, it isn’t. It’s an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn’t at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists’ cause.

Think, for a moment, about what France is and what it represents. It has its problems — what nation doesn’t? — but it’s a robust democracy with a deep well of popular legitimacy. Its defense budget is small compared with ours, but it nonetheless retains a powerful military, and has the resources to make that military much stronger if it chooses. (France’s economy is around 20 times the size of Syria’s.) France is not going to be conquered by ISIS, now or ever. Destroy Western civilization? Not a chance.

So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.

The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong.

It would certainly be a very bad thing if France or other democracies responded to terrorism with appeasement — if, for example, the French were to withdraw from the international effort against ISIS in the vain hope that jihadists would leave them alone. And I won’t say that there are no would-be appeasers out there; there are indeed some people determined to believe that Western imperialism is the root of all evil, and all would be well if we stopped meddling.

But real-world examples of mainstream politicians, let alone governments, knuckling under to terrorist demands are hard to find. Most accusations of appeasement in America seem to be aimed at liberals who don’t use what conservatives consider tough enough language.

A much bigger risk, in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat — a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it’s a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can’t set everything right. On 9/11 Donald Rumsfeld told his aides: “Sweep it up. Related and not,” and immediately suggested using the attack as an excuse to invade Iraq. The result was a disastrous war that actually empowered terrorists, and set the stage for the rise of ISIS.

And let’s be clear: this wasn’t just a matter of bad judgment. Yes, Virginia, people can and do exploit terrorism for political gain, including using it to justify what they imagine will be a splendid, politically beneficial little war.

Oh, and whatever people like Ted Cruz may imagine, ending our reluctance to kill innocent civilians wouldn’t remove the limits to American power. It would, however, do wonders for terrorist recruitment.

Finally, terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.

So what can we say about how to respond to terrorism? Before the atrocities in Paris, the West’s general response involved a mix of policing, precaution, and military action. All involved difficult tradeoffs: surveillance versus privacy, protection versus freedom of movement, denying terrorists safe havens versus the costs and dangers of waging war abroad. And it was always obvious that sometimes a terrorist attack would slip through.

Paris may have changed that calculus a bit, especially when it comes to Europe’s handling of refugees, an agonizing issue that has now gotten even more fraught. And there will have to be a post-mortem on why such an elaborate plot wasn’t spotted. But do you remember all the pronouncements that 9/11 would change everything? Well, it didn’t — and neither will this atrocity.

Again, the goal of terrorists is to inspire terror, because that’s all they’re capable of. And the most important thing our societies can do in response is to refuse to give in to fear.

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

November 12, 2015

In “G.O.P. Debate Doldrums” Mr. Blow says as the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable.  Mr. Cohen, in “Turkey Haunted by Its Ghosts,” says Erdogan re-enacts Ataturk as the Kurdish question strains Turkish-American relations.  Mr. Kristof considers “Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech” and says on university campuses, First Amendment rights are colliding with inclusivity.  In “Wow, More Terrifying Than Trump” Ms. Collins gives us some crib notes from the Republican debate to consider if our Thanksgiving dinner turns political.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The bloom is coming off the rose for the Republican presidential debates.

Now that could simply be me and my incredibly disenchanted view of this particular field of folly, but I don’t think so.

Much of the initial interest was in the mystifying appeal among Republican voters for the raucous real estate developer whose opening campaign salvo was an appeal to American xenophobia and a penchant for making unkeepable pledges completely divorced from reality and practicality.

The race had a charlatan as showman who attracted the attention like a train wreck: a disaster from which many were unable to look away.

Then came the rise of two other outsiders: the catatonic Ben Carson and the robotic Carly Fiorina.

Carson was the more compelling of the two, because he got more traction and his path to politics is even more unlikely.

He was a poor, and, he says, violent child — he writes of trying to stab a friend and going after his mother with a hammer — who turned his life around, became an acclaimed neurosurgeon and has peddled the story for profit ever since.

The story is fascinating, if true — though some of it is clouded by questions. The most recent examination, by The Daily Mail, calls the hammer anecdote into question.

The other spectacle to behold was to watch the Bush dynasty crash and burn because of Jeb(!)’s utter inability to give that exclamation point meaning and his inability to connect. So the establishment interest has slowly turned to his feisty, if hollow, young protégé Marco Rubio, who always strikes me as too slick by half and is apparently indesperate need of a personal accountant.

These debates are no longer about winning the nomination, but about avoiding doing something that would make you lose it.

Thus, we are treated to a rehash of the same tired talking points. Even the novelty has worn off. The candidates take few chances and offer few new nuggets.

Take all the other people with governor or senator on their résumés who thought that experience would mean something, but are gradually coming to realize that this is simply not their cycle.

John Kasich is growing ever more irascible the longer he stays in this senseless race. Rand Paul continues to sound like he’s phoning it in. Ted Cruz can’t translate his fire-starter reputation into barnburner enthusiasm.

In the undercard debate, Chris Christie continued his implicit anti-Black Lives Matter shtick by claiming that Democrats don’t support the police, Rick Santorum keeps trying to remind people that he did well last time, and Bobby Jindal… why is Bobby Jindal still in this race?

These debates have simply become an exercise in performance rather than policy review. We are watching to see who avoids the gaffe, who gets the applause, who attacks well and defends well against attacks.

This is all theater, an audition to see who would look less ridiculous standing opposite the eventual Democratic nominee.

Who will be able to offer a common-sense rebuttal on how to deal with millions of undocumented immigrants in this country? Who will articulate a strong national defense policy and antiterrorism strategy that isn’t too trigger-happy and war-obsessed? Who has a plan for tax and economic policies from which the most Americans would benefit? Who has the best plan to deal with culturally destructive social policies — like mass incarceration and the war on drugs — that are leaving more and more Americans disillusioned.

As it stands, the more articulate and electable voices among the Republican lot have failed to break into the upper ranks. Instead, the leaders continue to be men who have no experience in elected office and who no reasonable centrist voter — the ones who actually decide presidential elections — could ever conceive of in the Oval Office with access to nuclear codes.

It’s by no means clear to me that these two men even want to be president. But this increased exposure virtually guarantees increased book advances and speaking fees, and in the case of the real estate developer and maker of shiny ties, more sales.

These two guys stand to make out like bandits, while leaving the Republican Party’s presidential prospects in shambles.

Indeed, the whole Republican debate process is a parade of improbability. Every debate only bolsters Democratic optimism. As the time ticks down, Republicans continue to flirt with the idea of nominating someone who is wholly unelectable, thereby gifting to Democrats an election that many thought would be exceedingly hard to win.

Please to consider the fact that the NYT repeatedly informs us that Bernie Sanders is unelectable but takes the occupants of the Clown Car seriously…  Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Diyarbakir, Turkey:

“We don’t want Turkey to become Syria or Diyarbakir to become Aleppo.”

Those were the words of Tahir Elci, the president of the Diyarbakir Bar Association when I spoke to him after the recent Turkish election here in this troubled city of strong Kurdish national sentiment. On the night of the vote tires smoldered and the tear-gas-heavy air stung. In the center of the old city, rubble and walls pockmarked with bullet holes attest to the violence as police confront restive Kurds.

Elci was detained last month for a day and a half after saying in a television interview that the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., was not a “terrorist organization” but “an armed political organization which has large local support.” An indictment has been brought against him that seeks a prison sentence of more than seven years. The P.K.K. is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.

“For a few words about the P.K.K., in which I said some of its operations were terrorist but it was not itself a terrorist organization, there is a lynching campaign against me,” Elci told me. “Yet there is no strategy among the Turkish security forces against the Islamic State, no real mobilization. If ISIS were treated like the P.K.K., it would be very different.”

As G-20 leaders prepare to gather in Turkey next week, the fissures in the fabric of a polarized society are more marked than at any time in the dozen years that PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan has held power. His initial push, as prime minister, to oversee an era of neo-Ottoman opening both to Turkey’s neighbors and to minorities within the country, has collapsed in violence.

In the place of dialogue with historic enemies of the unitary Turkish state forged in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk has come the increasingly authoritarian assertion of a new brand of Sunni religious nationalism, the replacement for Ataturk’s secular nationalism. Erdogan, the representative of Turkey’s religious conservatives, had sought to portray Ataturk’s fiercely secular state as a “parenthesis”; instead he has come to re-enact many of the characteristics of that state, not least its veneration of one man.

Turkey is not about to become Syria — indeed it has shown remarkable generosity and resilience in absorbing more than two million Syrian refugees — but some of the same actors are present, including the Kurds and ISIS. So, too, is violence.

The Kurdish question has boiled up again in acute form. Kurdish militias loyal to the imprisoned P.K.K. leader, Abdullah Ocalan, have taken control of a wide area of northern Syria that they call Rojava, defeating Islamic State. Kurdish pesh merga forces are fighting side by side with the United States against ISIS in Iraq. Young Kurds here in the Diyarbakir area have tried to set up autonomous areas within cities, only to be crushed. All Kurds at some level want the state denied them when the Ottoman Empire broke up. They may settle for autonomy but a dream persists.

“I want autonomy, non-assimilation, the ability to use our language in our daily lives, and recognition of Kurdish as an official second language in Kurdish-majority areas,” Elci said.

The emergence of Kurds as America’s Iraqi and Syrian allies against ISIS has complicated the critical Turkish-American relationship. President Obama probably needs Erdogan more than Erdogan needs him, a fact that limits American leverage. Still, renewed Turkish-Kurdish negotiation and real Turkish commitment against ISIS are paramount American interests. The impression with Erdogan has been: better a Sunni Islamist fanatic than a Kurd.

Turkey is at a crossroads. The modern state was born through military prowess and a ferocious act of will. Ataturk forged a Westernized nation state from the many-shaded ruins of the Ottoman Empire. His creation involved an attempt to excise other peoples and identities — be they Kurdish, Armenian, Greek or Alevi — in the name of the new nation.

But Ottoman diversity, the fruit of many centuries, could not be subsumed into Turkish nationhood overnight. Turkey remains haunted by its ghosts.

The reverberations from Turkey’s troubled birth and the years preceding it persist. The 1915 Armenian genocide remains unacknowledged by Turkey even though Germany’s president, in this centennial year, spoke of German complicity. Joachim Gauck said: “We Germans collectively still have to come to terms with the past, namely when it comes to shared responsibility and perhaps even complicity in the genocide of the Armenians.”

It is for Turkey to answer how Germany could be complicit in a crime that did not exist.

Just how sensitive these issues remain was evident in the electoral campaign. Among the slogans of the A.K.P., as Erdogan’s Justice and Development party is known, was: “One Nation. One Flag. One State.” The insistence on oneness reflected a reality of fracture. Settling the Armenian dispute and reaching a negotiated settlement with the Kurds must be central Turkish goals before the centennial in 2023 of Ataturk’s state.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

On university campuses across the country, from Mizzou to Yale, we have two noble forces colliding with explosive force.

One is a concern for minority or marginalized students and faculty members, who are often left feeling as outsiders in ways that damage everyone’s education. At the University of Missouri, a black professor,Cynthia Frisby, wrote, “I have been called the N-word too many times to count.”

The problem is not just racists who use epithets but also administrators who seem to acquiesce. That’s why Mizzou students — especially football players — used their clout to oust the university system’s president. They showed leadership in trying to rectify a failure of leadership.

But moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies.

“Go, go, go,” some Mizzou protesters yelled as they jostled a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was trying to document the protests unfolding in a public space. And Melissa Click, an assistant professor who joined the protests, is heard on a video calling for “muscle” to oust another student journalist (she later apologized).

Tai represented the other noble force in these upheavals — free expression. He tried to make the point, telling the crowd: “The First Amendment protects your right to be here — and mine.”

We like to caricature great moral debates as right confronting wrong. But often, to some degree, it’s right colliding with right.

Yes, universities should work harder to be inclusive. And, yes, campuses must assure free expression, which means protecting dissonant and unwelcome voices that sometimes leave other people feeling aggrieved or wounded.

On both counts we fall far short.

We’ve also seen Wesleyan students debate cutting funding for the student newspaper after it ran an op-ed criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement. At Mount Holyoke, students canceled a production of “The Vagina Monologues” because they felt it excluded transgender women. Protests led to the withdrawal of Condoleezza Rice as commencement speaker at Rutgers and Christine Lagarde at Smith.

This is sensitivity but also intolerance, and it is disproportionately an instinct on the left.

I’m a pro-choice liberal who has been invited to infect evangelical Christian universities with progressive thoughts, and to address Catholic universities where I’ve praised condoms and birth control programs. I’m sure I discomfited many students on these conservative campuses, but it’s a tribute to them that they were willing to be challenged. In the same spirit, liberal universities should seek out pro-life social conservatives to speak.

More broadly, academia — especially the social sciences — undermines itself by a tilt to the left. We should cherish all kinds of diversity, including the presence of conservatives to infuriate us liberals and make us uncomfortable. Education is about stretching muscles, and that’s painful in the gym and in the lecture hall.

One of the wrenching upheavals lately has unfolded at Yale. Longtime frustrations among minority students boiled over after administrators seemed to them insufficiently concerned about offensive costumes for Halloween. A widely circulated video showed a furious student shouting down one administrator, Prof. Nicholas Christakis. “Be quiet!” she screams at him. “It is not about creating an intellectual space!”

A student wrote an op-ed about “the very real hurt” that minority students feel, adding: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” That prompted savage commentary online. “Is Yale letting in 8-year-olds?” one person asked on Twitter.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page denounced “Yale’s Little Robespierres.” It followed up Wednesday with another editorial, warning that the P.C. mind-set “threatens to undermine or destroy universities as a place of learning.”

I suggest we all take a deep breath.

The protesters at Mizzou and Yale and elsewhere make a legitimate point: Universities should work harder to make all students feel they are safe and belong. Members of minorities — whether black or transgender or (on many campuses) evangelical conservatives — should be able to feel a part of campus, not feel mocked in their own community.

The problems at Mizzou were underscored on Tuesday when there were death threats against black students. What’s unfolding at universities is not just about free expression but also about a safe and nurturing environment.

Consider an office where bosses shrug as some men hang nude centerfolds and leeringly speculate about the sexual proclivities of female colleagues. Free speech issue? No! That’s a hostile work environment. And imagine if you’re an 18-year-old for whom this is your 24/7 home — named, say, for a 19th-century pro-slavery white supremacist.

My favorite philosopher, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin, argued that there was a deep human yearning to find the One Great Truth. In fact, he said, that’s a dead end: Our fate is to struggle with a “plurality of values,” with competing truths, with trying to reconcile what may well be irreconcilable.

That’s unsatisfying. It’s complicated. It’s also life.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Perhaps you didn’t watch the Republican presidential debate this week. That in no way excuses you from having an opinion about it. It’s the last one until December, and all you’ll have to work with if you want political conversation at Thanksgiving dinner.

Except, perhaps, Donald Trump’s proposal that we boycott Starbucks for changing its holiday coffee cup design. He also promised a crowd recently that when he is president “we’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Even if you never said it before? Hard to tell.

But about the debate. Jeb Bush sent out a mass email before the event began, asking all his “friends” to send him a dollar so he’d “know you’re at home cheering me on.” Doesn’t that sound a little pathetic?

As promised, it was certainly more issue-oriented than the ones that went before. However, the subject was supposed to be the economy, and we have long since learned that when these people talk tax plans, we’re not going to hear anything except the word low. And occasionally flat.

“As you noted, I have rolled out a bold and simple flat tax: 10 percent for every American that would produce booming growth and 4.9 million new jobs within a decade,” said Ted Cruz. In a perfect world, someone would have jumped up and yelled, “Say what?” since Cruz was talking about a potential $3 trillion budget hole.

Later, Cruz volunteered that he’d impose sharp budget cuts, including the total elimination of five major agencies — only four of which he could remember. People, do you think this should be the end of Ted Cruz? True, he got around it by listing the Department of Commerce twice, which was a little slicker than “Oops.” But still.

Carly Fiorina kept touting her three-page tax code. Not a three-page tax form — three pages of laws to cover all the taxes paid by every individual and business in the country. She mentioned the three-page code four times during the debate, and not once did anyone say, “Carly, what the heck are you talking about?”

The only person who might have passed for the teller of hard truths was — are you ready? — Ben Carson. While making the ever-popular promise to get rid of loopholes, Carson actually volunteered that he’d ax deductions for charitable contributions and home mortgages. Everybody liked them, Carson acknowledged, in his soft, calming voice. “But the fact of the matter is, people had homes before 1913, when we introduced the federal income tax, and later after that started deductions.”

Profile in courage or failure to think things through? Excellent topic for holiday discussion.

The only two issues that sparked genuine debate were immigration and military affairs. On the immigration front, both Bush and John Kasich attempted to tear into Trump’s plan to deport all the undocumented immigrants in the country. “Think about the families, think about the children,” Kasich begged, in an appeal unlikely to tug at the heartstrings of the Trump base.

Trump, for his part, claimed that President Dwight Eisenhower deported 1.5 million illegal immigrants to Mexico and stayed popular. (“Dwight Eisenhower. You don’t get nicer. You don’t get friendlier.”) This was a program titled “Operation Wetback” during which some deportees drowned.

Cruz took the opportunity to say that his father “came legally from Cuba.” It’s actually a very complicated story, but the important thing was that Cruz got to mention his immigrant parent. It is a rule in these debates that everybody who is not Jeb Bush or Donald Trump tries to sneak in some detail about humble origins. Kasich’s grandfather had black lung disease! And really, there should be a drinking game in which everybody takes a swig each time Rubio says: “My father was a bartender. My mother was a maid.”

Trump and Bush tangled over American involvement in the Middle East. Trump quoted an unnamed general, who said: “You know, Mr. Trump? We’re giving hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment to these people, we have no idea who they are.” Notice that in the Donald world, even generals call him “Mr. Trump.”

Meanwhile, Carson said America needed to make global jihadists “look like losers” by taking back a big oil field they control in Iraq. “We could do that, I believe, fairly easily. I’ve learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.”

Who won? It’s hard to imagine voters who’ve stuck with Trump or Carson this long would be deterred by anything at this point. Many experts seem to think Cruz and Rubio did well, which I guess they did if you like illogical economic programs and totally terrifying views on foreign affairs. I guess Jeb felt encouraged. After the debate he emailed a request for another donation, to “keep the momentum going.”

Blow and Krugman

November 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Kristof

November 5, 2015

In “Suicide of a Dishonest Officer” Mr. Blow says sometimes bad people simply do bad things. Not everything in real life fits neatly into a narrative.  Mr. Kristof considers “Drugs, Greed and a Dead Boy” and says Andrew Francesco was a boy who needed help. For pharmaceutical companies, he was a source of revenue.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is no way to fully process the betrayal by Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, a police lieutenant in Illinois who an investigator said Wednesday had committed a “carefully staged suicide” after years of stealing money from a local youth group that he ran.

He betrayed his family, he betrayed his fellow officers, he betrayed the public he served, and he betrayed the children in the program.

Shortly after Gliniewicz’s death, his widow took the stage at a vigil in his honor, flanked by the couple’s sons, and read a statement that said:

“We all lost somebody yesterday. A husband, a father, a son, a brother, a mentor, a leader, a role model and a friend. And of course, a brother in blue. Joe was my best friend, my world, my hero, the love of my life for the last 26 and a half years.”

She continued: “My world got a little bit smaller with his passing, and he will truly be missed by all of us.”

Her sense of pain was palpable; her sense of loss raw. And yet, her dead husband had set her and everyone else up with a lie.

Senator Dick Durbin even tweeted on Sept. 2: “Officer Gliniewicz of#FoxLake exemplified what it means to be a law enforcement officer&was a true mentor to his fellow officers&community.”

But according to authorities, that mentor was also a thief. As The Chicago Tribune reported, authorities say the amount of the theft was “in the five figures.” And, the paper reported last month, the cost of the investigation into his death topped $300,000.

This is an exponential tragedy, and there is only one person at fault here: Officer Gliniewicz, the officer lovingly referred to as G.I. Joe. His family and his community bear no guilt here. They, too, are victims.

But there are others for whom that claim cannot be made. They are the people who from the beginning went further than any evidence would support in trying to link Gliniewicz’s death to so-called anti-police rhetoric and presidential politics.

On “The Kelly File,” the host, Megyn Kelly, said that it was too early to know the exact circumstance of the “murder” of Gliniewicz, “but it clearly comes just days after Deputy Darren Goforth of the Sheriff’s Department was shot execution-style in an attack that his boss linked to the, quote, ‘dangerous environment created by the Black Lives Matter movement.’ ”

Gov. Scott Walker, of neighboring Wisconsin, wrote on that Gliniewicz had been “assassinated” as “people responsible for keeping us safe are targeted because they are law enforcement officials.”

He continued: “In the last six years under President Obama, we’ve seen a rise in anti-police rhetoric. Instead of hope and change, we’ve seen racial tensions worsen and a tendency to use law enforcement as a scapegoat.”

Immediately following Gliniewicz’s death, a former United States Secret Service agent, Dan Bongino, went on Fox News and, as images of the search for Gliniewicz’s phantom killers played on the screen, said of President Obama:

“The man has been a complete disgrace when it comes to dealing with police officers, and it really gives me no joy in saying that. I know people can engage in hyperbolic statements here, but it’s just the truth. I mean, how many people are going to have to die, how many police officers, before President Obama has that Sista Souljah moment President Clinton had and he comes out and says ‘enough is enough’?”

In an October interview with Crime Watch Daily, even Gliniewicz’s widow lamented that she had not heard from the president and said, while sobbing, “When our officers can’t go home without being shot at, then there’s a problem.”

This case illustrates the ultimate danger of reactionary narrative-building and rabid hashtag orthodoxy.

In the same way that not every black life taken is taken with malice, or without an awareness that it matters, not every police life taken is the result of a hostile policing environment in which calls for justice translate into a call for retribution.

Sometimes bad people simply do bad things. Not everything in real life fits neatly into a narrative. And indeed, trying to force everything pushes out the legitimacy from otherwise honorable pursuits.

The people who sought to politicize Gliniewicz’s death should feel chastened and embarrassed. Rather than simply mourning his death, empathizing with his family and waiting for the results of the full investigation — the very same thing they ask of those unsettled by the deaths of people at the hands of police officers — they pushed an association that didn’t exist.

So eager — or at least too recklessly willing — were they to add another tick mark to the tally of officers fallen in the supposed war on the police, and to ding protesters and the president, that they built a sham argument on a sham murder. Shameful.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Andrew Francesco was a rambunctious, athletic and joyful child, but also a handful. When he was 5 years old, a psychiatrist prescribed Ritalin. As he grew older, he disrupted classes and was given a growing number of potent antipsychotic and other medications.

These didn’t work, so he was prescribed more. Pushed out of one school after another, Andrew grew frustrated, unhappy and sometimes alarming. His parents hid the kitchen knives. Then his mother died at 54; the family believes that the stress of raising Andrew was a factor.

When Andrew was 15, the medications caught up with him and he suffered a rare complication from one of them, Seroquel. One Friday he was well enough to go to school; on Sunday he was brain-dead.

That’s the story that Steven Francesco, a longtime pharmaceutical industry executive and consultant, tells in “Overmedicated and Undertreated,” his harrowing memoir of raising Andrew, his son. He makes clear that the larger problem — even from his view as an industry insider — is a sector that sometimes puts profits above public well-being.

Here’s the central issue: Children with emotional or mental disorders have become a gold mine for the drug industry. Psychiatric medicines for children account for billions of dollars in sales annually, and the market has boomed.

Between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s, prescriptions of antipsychotics for childrenrose about sevenfold.

And now the industry is getting even greedier. It is pushing for a First Amendment right to market its drugs for off-label uses, a path that would leave children like Andrew with mental health issues particularly vulnerable. You may think of free speech as a citizen’s right to dissent; pharmaceutical executives see it as a tool to market drugs for unapproved uses.

Two courts have ruled for the drug companies. That’s the triumph of an ideology that sees corporations as virtuous players endowed with individual freedoms, and regulators as untrustworthy Luddites.

“The recent court decisions could erode the F.D.A. approval process — put in place to protect the public — and threaten public health and patient safety,” warns Dr. Margaret Hamburg, until recently the Food and Drug Administration’s commissioner.

Experts on mental health fear that these rulings could lead to “terrible trouble by confounding science with marketing,” says Dr. Steven E. Hyman, a Harvard expert on psychiatry and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

Already, 80 percent of the psychiatric medicine administered to children is “off label,” Francesco estimates, meaning that the F.D.A. hasn’t approved its use for that purpose. Sometimes, off-label use makes sense, but it must be done with care, not just as a result of aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies simply aiming to boost quarterly profits.

“Children, because their brains are still developing, are not just small adults,” Hyman notes.

The pharmaceutical industry repeatedly has shown why “regulation” shouldn’t be a dirty word in American politics:

■ In the early 1960s, many countries allowed the “wonder drug” thalidomide to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. A heroic female doctor at the F.D.A., Frances Kelsey, resisted industry pressure to approve thalidomide in the United States, thus averting thousands of horrific birth defects like those it caused abroad.

■ In the mid-1990s, pharmaceutical companies argued that doctors systematically under-treated pain, and as a solution the manufacturers aggressively marketed opioids. The companies’ behavior was sometimes criminal (executives of the company that made OxyContin pleaded guilty to criminal charges), but also hugely profitable. This helped lead to a crisis of addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin; today, drug overdoses kill more Americans than guns or cars do.

■ In a recent column, I recounted how Johnson & Johnson deceptively marketed an antipsychotic medicine called Risperdal, concealing for example the fact that it can cause boys to grow large, pendulous breasts (one boy developed a 46DD bust). J&J got caught, pleaded guilty and paid more than $2 billion in penalties and settlements — but also registered $30 billion in Risperdal sales. The executive who oversaw this illegal marketing effort was Alex Gorsky, who then was promoted to chief executive of J&J. If you’re a pharmaceutical company, crime sometimes pays.

It’s true of course that pharmaceuticals are, literally, lifesavers; indeed, they may have saved my life from malaria. Steven Francesco says that while one drug killed Andrew, another seemed to help him, although he also says that animal therapy, in the form of a dog, seemed to help him more. Children’s mental health in particular is complicated, with difficult trade-offs, requiring oversight.

Think of cars: They, too, offer a huge benefit but still require careful regulation.

So if you agree with today’s politicians thundering against regulation, or if you think that pharmaceutical companies should enjoy a free speech right to peddle drugs, then talk to a family fighting opiate addiction. Or a parent of a thalidomide child. Or consult the grieving family of Andrew Francesco.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

November 2, 2015

In “Gotcha, G.O.P.” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidates, especially Ben Carson, appear to want to say little and avoid tough questions.  Mr. Cohen, in “Erdogan’s Violent Victory,” says the Turkish president played with fire and turned “stability” into the key word of the campaign.  Prof. Krugman, in “Partisan Growth Gaps,” says Republicans make big boasts, but things go better under Democrats.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Here we go again with attacks on the “mainstream media” and the invocation of the dreaded “gotcha question” to excuse poor performance and intellectual flat-footedness.

After being asked at last week’s debate about his ties to the shady nutritional supplement company Mannatech and saying “I didn’t have an involvement with them” and dismissing claims of a connection as “total propaganda,” Ben Carson called Thursday for an overhaul of Republican debate formats.

“Debates are supposed to be established to help the people get to know the candidate,” Carson said, according to The Washington Post. “What it’s turned into is — gotcha! That’s silly. That’s not helpful to anybody.”

I think the question was a fair one, and I’m not alone. Carson’s business manager, Armstrong Williams, said Thursday on CNN that the question wasn’t a gotcha one but an “absolutely” fair one.

And on the credibility of Carson’s denial, PolitiFact ruled:

“As far as we can tell, Carson was not a paid employee or official endorser of the product. However, his claim suggests he has no ties to Mannatech whatsoever. In reality, he got paid to deliver speeches to Mannatech and appeared in promotional videos, and he consistently delivered glowing reviews of the nutritional supplements. As a world-renowned surgeon, Carson’s opinion on health issues carries weight, and Mannatech has used Carson’s endorsement to its advantage.

“We rate Carson’s claim False.”

The idea of the gotcha question and gotcha journalism have decades-long roots, at least. In 1999, Calvin Trillin in Time Magazinecalled gotcha journalism, “campaign coverage dominated by attempts to reveal youthful misbehavior.” But the questions the Republican candidates received were not of that genre.

In a 1992 New York Times Magazine articleabout Barbara Walters, one of her producers told Bill Carter that Walters always went for the “gotcha question, the one that reveals the person.”

But the idea of the “gotcha question” gained new primacy in the 2008 election, whenWilliam Safire wrote in The Times of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews’s prediction that “The gotcha politics will begin,” and noted that “Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, used the word in defense of having the audience question candidates at a CNN/YouTube debate instead of allowing reporters to have at his party’s candidates. He preferred to ‘let the American people back in’ than endure questions ‘from a press corps that wants to play gotcha!’ ”

But perhaps it has its most resonance because of its use by the disastrously ill-equipped Republican vice presidential candidate, who repeatedly used the phase as an excuse for her train wreck interviews.

Gotcha questions have come to mean any question one doesn’t want to answer, any question whose answer would or could reveal something unflattering. In a way, a question is simply a question and only becomes a gotcha if you, the answerer, feel convicted and unsettled by it. Gotcha is in the mind — and spine — of the interviewee.

Carson simply wasn’t prepared for the Mannatech question and wasn’t completely honest in the answer. If that is gotcha journalism, I’m here for it “every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” to borrow a phrase from Mike Huckabee.

This is not to say that the debate wasn’t a bit of a mess. It was. Nor is it to say that some of the questions weren’t questionable. They were. But questions that seek clarification of a candidate’s past are fair.

Yet Republicans have decided that attacking the media makes good optics. Not only is the party considering overhauling the debate process, it has suspended an upcoming NBC debate because, according to the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, “CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and meanspirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.”

But gotcha questions aren’t the Republicans’ problem. A frustration among Republican voters with political professionalism and a hodgepodge of fatally flawed candidates is. The more traditional portion of the Republican field is littered with candidates with strong résumés — I use the word strong here loosely, to mean the existence of governmental experience, not the quality of it — but relatively weak rhetorical skills.

Of the nontraditional lot, there is a former neurosurgeon whose strategy seems to be to appear barely awake while delivering word salads of outlandishness in a murmur, a real-estate mogul full of bluster and bawdiness, and a fired C.E.O. engaged in a breathtaking example of pink-slip revisionism.

Marco Rubio is thought to have won the last debate, not so much because he brilliantly articulated reasonable, or intellectually invigorating policy — “I’m against anything that’s bad for my mother” is a kindergarten truism, not a nuanced policy position — but because he remained relatively even and unperturbed.

And yet, it’s Carson who is now the front-runner, one of the candidates who spoke the least during the last debate and who seemed to want to say nothing at all. And that candidate is the one worrying about the precious few questions he will have to answer. That is the elephant party’s problem: They’re betting on someone who’s using ostrich logic.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen, writing from Istanbul:

For President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, violence made all the difference. It turned “stability” into the key word of an election that ushered his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., to the decisive victory denied it in the June 7 vote. One-party rule is back in Turkey and one man pulls the strings.

Improbably, Erdogan was able to embody stability when the politics of instability have been his modus operandi over the past five months. Or perhaps not so improbably — Erdogan, in power now for a dozen years, understands the psychology of fear and the force of Sunni Turkish nationalism, especially when the old specter of the Kurdish conflict appears.

The president has played with fire. His stance toward the terror-wielding jihadis of the Islamic State has married symbolic opposition to benign negligence, enough anyway to produce two terrorist attacks, one near the Syrian border on July 20 and one last month in Ankara, that left about 130 people dead. Most of the victims were Kurds. Goaded and attacked on several fronts in recent months, inside and beyond Turkish borders, the militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or P.K.K., returned to violence, killing two Turkish policemen on July 22. The old war stirred. It allowed Erdogan to suggest that only he stood between Turkey and the mayhem in neighboring states.

That, in a nutshell, is what changed between June and now. Erdogan did not respect the will of the people, of which he likes to speak. The June result was not to his liking; he set out, by all means, to overturn it and secure a parliamentary majority. Fragility was his political ally.

The A.K.P., embodying the conservative Sunni nationalism of the Anatolian heartland against the republican secularism of the coast, leapt to 49.3 percent of the vote from 40.9 percent in June. It took 316 seats, enough to govern alone, against 258 five months ago. A far-right party and the Kurdish-dominated People’s Republic Party, or H.D.P., lost votes as extreme nationalists and conservative Kurds opted for Erdogan. The scale of the shift, in short order, was extraordinary.

Still, the H.D.P., the new kid on the Turkish political block, managed to pass — just — the 10 percent legal threshold to enter Parliament. That was critical. Without the H.D.P., the A.K.P. dominance would have been so crushing as to enable Erdogan to change the Constitution and create an executive presidency on a whim. He will still push for that, but there will be pushback. Turkey, long the best hope for a Middle Eastern Muslim democracy, has not yet disappeared entirely over the authoritarian brink, but it is close.

Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic leader of the H.D.P., said, “Maybe we lost one million votes but we are a party that managed to stand up against all massacre policies.” That, he suggested, was a “great victory.” Certainly, it was a significant one.

The H.D.P. is wounded but not moribund, despite widespread arrests of its members. Its future may hinge on how far Demirtas, criticized for not condemning P.K.K. violence with sufficient stringency, is able to chart a new, inclusive and nonviolent Kurdish course. Its appeal to non-Kurdish voters, the surprising development of June, hinges on that.

But Demirtas is vulnerable to Erdogan’s machinations. It is unclear how far the turbulent downward spiral of the past five months can be contained. The president’s genie of violence is out of the bottle. He has attacked a free press, undermined the rule of law, polarized the country and instilled an atmosphere where any opponent is “anti-nation” and treasonous.

“Let’s work together toward a Turkey where conflict, tension and polarization are nonexistent,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, declared in victory. That, from Erdogan’s man, sounded like hypocrisy at best.

Turkey for now seems set on the intolerant path of the 21st century authoritarian democracies that owe much to President Vladimir Putin of Russia — societies where dominance of the media, manipulation of conflict, unbound nationalism and the trashing of the rule of law allow the creation of a democratic masquerade. This represents a betrayal of the fuller democracy, freed of the threat of military coups, Erdogan promised Turkey a dozen years ago and seemed for a moment to represent.

It is time to end that betrayal. The alternative is more violence. This was victory in a democracy undermined.

I spoke to Ahmet Hakan, a prominent journalist beaten up during the campaign by unknown assailants. Hakan comes from a background of A.K.P. sympathy but has become critical. “My biggest criticism is that they do not tolerate criticism,” he told me. “I am not categorically against the government but they are so intolerant they cannot tolerate this. I saw the A.K.P. as trying to democratize Turkey, but step by step it became a one-man party.”

I asked who attacked him. Government cronies? He declined to say. “But the political atmosphere under this government makes this possible.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article by Carly Fiorina titled “Hillary Clinton Flunks Economics,” ridiculing Mrs. Clinton’s assertions that the U.S. economy does better under Democrats. “America,” declared Ms. Fiorina, “needs someone in the White House who actually knows how the economy works.”

Well, we can agree on that much.

Partisan positioning on the economy is actually quite strange. Republicans talk about economic growth all the time. They attack Democrats for “job-killing” government regulations, they promise great things if elected, they predicate their tax plans on the assumption that growth will soar and raise revenues. Democrats are far more cautious. Yet Mrs. Clinton is completely right about the record: historically, the economy has indeed done better under Democrats.

This contrast raises two big questions. First, why has the economy performed better under Democrats? Second, given that record, why are Republicans so much more inclined than Democrats to boast about their ability to deliver growth?

Before I get to those questions, let’s talk about the facts.

The arithmetic on partisan differences is actually stunning. Last year the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson circulated a paper comparing economic performance under Democratic and Republican presidents since 1947. Under Democrats, the economy grew, on average, 4.35 percent per year; under Republicans, only 2.54 percent. Over the whole period, the economy was in recession for 49 quarters; Democrats held the White House during only eight of those quarters.

But isn’t the story different for the Obama years? Not as much as you think. Yes, the recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 has been sluggish. Even so, the Obama record compares favorably on a number of indicators with that of George W. Bush. In particular, despite all the talk about job-killing policies, private-sector employment is eight millionhigher than it was when Barack Obama took office, twice the job gains achieved under his predecessor before the recession struck.

Why is the Democratic record so much better? The short answer is that we don’t know.

Mr. Blinder and Mr. Watson look at a variety of possible explanations, and find all of them wanting. There’s no indication that the Democratic advantage can be explained by better monetary and fiscal policies. Democrats seem, on average, to have had better luck than Republicans on oil prices and technological progress. Overall, however, the pattern remains mysterious. Certainly no Democratic candidate would be justified in promising dramatically higher growth if elected. And in fact, Democrats never do.

Republicans, however, always make such claims: Every candidate with a real chance of getting the G.O.P. nomination is claiming that his tax plan would produce a huge growth surge — a claim that has no basis in historical experience. Why?

Part of the answer is epistemic closure: modern conservatives generally live in a bubble into which inconvenient facts can’t penetrate. One constantly hears assertions that Ronald Reagan achieved economic and job growth never matched before or since, when the reality is that Bill Clinton surpassed him on both measures. Right-wing news media trumpet the economic disappointments of the Obama years, while hardly ever mentioning the good news. So the myth of conservative economic superiority goes unchallenged.

Beyond that, however, Republicans need to promise economic miracles as a way to sell policies that overwhelmingly favor the donor class.

It would be nice, for variety’s sake, if even one major G.O.P. candidate would come out against big tax cuts for the 1 percent. But none have, and all of the major players have called for cuts that would subtract trillions from revenue. To make up for this lost revenue, it would be necessary to make sharp cuts in big programs — that is, in Social Security and/or Medicare.

But Americans overwhelmingly believe that the wealthy pay less than their fair share of taxes, and even Republicans are closely divided on the issue. And the public wants to see Social Security expanded, not cut. So how can a politician sell the tax-cut agenda? The answer is, by promising those miracles, by insisting that tax cuts on high incomes would both pay for themselves and produce wonderful economic gains.

Hence the asymmetry between the parties. Democrats can afford to be cautious in their economic promises precisely because their policies can be sold on their merits. Republicans must sell an essentially unpopular agenda by confidently declaring that they have the ultimate recipe for prosperity — and hope that nobody points out their historically poor track record.

And if someone does point to that record, you know what they’ll do: Start yelling about media bias.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

October 26, 2015

In “Hillary Clinton Wins Again” Mr. Blow says the Benghazi committee embarrassed itself, and instead of weakening Mrs. Clinton, it bolstered her standing with potential voters.  Mr. Cohen, in “Britain’s ‘Brexit’ Folly,” says say it, Mr. Cameron: An “out” vote is a vote for decline, illusion, the past and marginalization.  In “Free Mitt Romney!” Prof. Krugman says the  former Massachusetts governor should be proud of helping to pave the way for Obamacare, but in today’s Republican Party that is viewed as a crime.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On the heels of a strong Democratic debate performance, last week Vice President Joe Biden — whose candidacy would surely have drawn support away from her — dismounted the fence and decided not to run for president himself. And then came the spectacular debacle of the Benghazi committee hearing.

At one point during the hearing, Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, said: “This is not a prosecution.” But it was an attempted persecution. It simply failed.

It was a televised witch trial. But the tribunal had before it a woman who would not confess transgression and who defied the flame.

Instead, she was poised, knowledgeable and unflappable. She turned the tables. The committee was on trial, and found wanting in motives, authorities and class.

I keep being surprised by the astonishing degree to which Clinton’s opponents continue to underestimate her.

She is far from flawless, but she is no slouch or dummy. She is sharp and tough and resilient. She is a rock, and she is not to be trifled with.

The Clintons as a couple, and individually, are battle-hardened. They are not new to this. They are survivors. Even when they lose, they survive. No upstart congressman or woman can do more damage than has already been done and dealt with.

Why can’t these people see that? Oh well…

Even before the hearings began, they had been hobbled.

Several Republicans had suggested what many already assumed: that the committee was established — or strayed from its course — in an effort to hurt Clinton’s political prospects.

Make no mistake: this field has been well plowed. This investigation is looking increasingly like a boondoggle: a spectacular waste of time and money.

As a Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff, put it: “The reality is that after 17 months, we have nothing new to tell the families. We have nothing new to tell the American people. We have discovered nothing that alters the core conclusions of the eight investigations that went on before.”

A CNN/ORC poll released last week found that:

“Seventy-two percent of all Americans say they see the Benghazi committee as mostly using its investigative mission for political gain, just 23 percent think it is conducting an objective investigation. Even Republicans are skeptical on this measure, with 49 percent saying the committee is trying to score political points vs. 47 percent who say it is conducting an objective investigation.”

Last week, four top Senate Democrats even demanded in a letter to the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, that it pay for the nearly $5 million price tag of the committee, writing “that the Select Committee has conducted a political inquisition aimed at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” This of course was political theory, and will never happen, but needed to be said.

But the spectacle of the hearing itself was an injury different and apart from the motive. Clinton was more composed and commanding, while her Republican questioners vacillated from condescending to pugnacious.

They embarrassed themselves.

And in Clinton’s corner were the Democratic members of the committee, including ranking member Elijah Cummings, who all day delivered blistering repudiations to the committee itself.

Toward the end of the 11-hour hearing, Cummings said to Clinton:

“You have laid it out. I think — you’ve said — this has not been done perfectly. You wish you could do it another way, and then the statement you made a few minutes ago when you said, you know, I have given more thought to this than all of you combined. So I don’t know what we want from you. Do we want to badger you over and over again until you get tired, until we do get the gotcha moment he’s talking about?”

He continued:

“We’re better than that. We are so much better. We are a better country. And we are better than using taxpayer dollars to try to destroy a campaign. That’s not what America is all about.

As he put it: “I just had to get that off my chest.”

Indeed, when Gowdy was asked in a press conference following the marathon hearing what new information he had gathered, he responded:

“I think some of Jimmy Jordan’s questioning — well, when you say new today, we knew some of that already. We knew about the emails. In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”

That’s right, much of nothing. What a waste.

But not for Clinton. For her, it was a boon. She won another one. It bolstered her image as a warrior and it helped to shore up her support from waffling voters.

This doesn’t guarantee her the presidency of course, or even the nomination, but Republicans did her a tremendous favor with these hearings. The Benghazi committee became a Clinton campaign benefactor.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

The little Englanders and their enablers determined to takeBritain out of the European Union believe the perfect storm is upon them.

Look across the Channel, they argue, and see the hordes of desperate refugees intent on disrupting the British way of life (whatever they imagine that to be) and living off British welfare. Look beyond them and see the 19-member eurozone mired in the agony of its flawed creation. Look at the whole European Continent, with its sluggish economies and myriad regulations, and imagine a glorious island nation freed from the burdens of an unhappy association with the complex-ridden losers of World War II!

It’s all baloney, and dangerous baloney at that, fanned by the Murdoch press, the anti-immigrant hatemongers of the U.K. Independence Party, and the sovereignty-obsessed conservative backbenchers of Prime Minister David Cameron who believe Britain can boss it again in the world if unbound from the shackles of Brussels and bureaucrats intent on stipulating the shape of cucumbers.

The fact is the European Union has been good for Britain — its economy, its openness, its culture, its financial services and its global clout. Postwar imperial decline has been offset by European construction. The British overcoat has become ampler. But such is the jingoistic clamor that Cameron has blinked and, either next year or the year after that, Britain will vote (for the first time since 1975) on whether to remain part of the European Union. The vote will be definitive.

“It’s losable,” Pat McFadden, a Labour Party member of Parliament and staunch supporter of continued membership, told me. “It’s winnable, too. Neither side should make assumptions. You could have a nationalist anti-immigration thing that comes together at the very moment when the euro and the refugee crisis are being discussed.”

A vote to leave, for McFadden, would be a disaster — not just for the economy, trade, investment and jobs — but also for Britain’s place in the world. Britain does nearly half its trade with other European Union countries and, as an E.U. member, is part of a $18.5 trillion economy, larger than that of the United States. Exports to the European Union support over 4 million jobs, directly or indirectly. On its own, Britain is a significant pygmy, with less than 1 percent of the world’s population and less than 3 percent of global output; it is not in the 21st-century major league.

Moreover, as McFadden told me, “If Britain leaves the E.U., Scotland will leave Britain.” A pro-European Scotland, now a virtual Scottish nationalist one-party state, will be able to argue circumstances have changed since the referendum last year produced a majority for remaining part of the United Kingdom. Scotland will demand another vote. And so a British exit from Europe could well mean the end of the very Great Britain proudly invoked by the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot “Brexit” brigade.

Blow, Cohen and Collins

October 15, 2015

In “Queen Hillary Came to Play” Mr. Blow says Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. She held steady and defiant.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s What Next?”, says the president has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy.  Ms. Collins considers “Hillary Clinton’s Happy Brew” and says she’s having a magical month, so be careful about messing with her mojo.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton crushed it! There is no other way for me to put it.

Her performance Tuesday night at the first Democratic debate was so spectacular as to erase all doubt: Weakened as she may be, there is still fire in that belly, and she will not quietly shift to the side to make room for someone else — not Bernie Sanders, and not Joe Biden should he ever stop this annoying dillydallying and decide to run.

And I don’t consider her performance spectacular simply because of what she did — although she demonstrated a remarkable assuredness and dexterity — but also because of what the others didn’t do.

It seemed as if Clinton was the only candidate on that stage that came to play … and to win.

Days before the debate on CNN (where I am a commentator), I was asked who I thought had the most to gain from the debate. I answered: Bernie Sanders.

My reasoning was that there are still large sections of the Democratic base — namely blacks and Hispanics — who don’t know who he is, and the debate was a perfect opportunity for him to introduce himself to those voters.

I actually believe that Sanders did that. He forcefully presented his message, and really hammered his selling point, his crusade against income inequality. And he had some strong and memorable lines, like “Congress does not regulate Wall Street; Wall Street regulates Congress.”

But in the end, Sanders’s strong performance was subsumed by Clinton’s even stronger one. Indeed, Sanders may have increased the margin separating them when he said that Americans were tired of talking about Clinton’s emails, thereby giving her a pass.

None of this means Republicans have not done real damage to her brand — her credibility and her electability. They have. None of it means that she would be the best general election candidate. Who knows.

And none of this means that Clinton’s performance was perfect. She inexplicably couldn’t bring herself to say the words “Black Lives Matter,” even after meeting with the group last week. She fumbled about a bit when answering a question about her relationship to Wall Street. She could have been more tactful when answering the question about the enemies she was proud of making.

But all in all, she played it nearly perfectly. That was in part because there was a prevailing sense of civility and seriousness that hung over the debate. That’s good. But there were also times when that civility seemed to border on acquiescence. Absolute civility isn’t always a luxury available to those who are losing. They need to punch up, often and hard.

The only person who came with that kind of bite was the curmudgeonlyJim Webb, who seemed like a candidate who got lost on his way to the Republican debate and simply decided to show up at the Democratic one.

Martin O’Malley seemed to be asleep during the first hour of the debate, and when he spoke he whispered more than Janet Jackson on the “Rhythm Nation” album.

I was absolutely sure that Clinton would be dinged a bit during the debate, but she escaped virtually unscathed and therefore looking untouchable.

Even when they attacked Hillary, she deftly negotiated the obstacles and turned them to her advantage.

Poor Lincoln Chafee, who seemed dazed and confused for the whole debate, could hardly get his answers out.

When Chafee was asked if he stood by his previous attacks on Clinton’s character and her use of a private email server, Chafee replied:

“Absolutely. We have to repair American credibility after we told the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which he didn’t, so there’s an issue of American credibility out there. So anytime someone’s running to be our leader, and a world leader, which the American president is, credibility is an issue out there with the world. And we have repair work to be done. I think we need someone that has the best in ethical standards as our next president.”

When Clinton was asked if she would like to respond, she delivered the perfect little one-word dis: “No!” That’s the kind of shade that would make Dorian Corey — who introduced the nuanced concept of “shade” to much of America in the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning” — applaud.

But that wasn’t the only thing I’ve seen on a screen that occurred to me Tuesday.

One of the most memorable lines from the HBO series “The Wire” comes when the notorious and eerily unflappable Omar yells to men shooting at him: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”

That line kept replaying in my mind Tuesday night as attacks like Chafee’s missed their mark and Hillary held steady and defiant.

You come at the queen, you best not miss.

It’s interesting that almost everyone at the Times is firmly in the bag for Hillary.  Their readers?  Not so much.  Here’s “Karen Garcia” from New Paltz, NY in response to Mr. Blow:  “It was a performance, period. And now Charles Blow dutifully joins the elite chorus to make the coronation official. Actually, the Huffington Post was the first outlet to use the phrase “crushed it” to describe the Chris Matthews-like thrill traveling up the giant media leg. That the press esteems style over substance has never been made more abundantly, nauseatingly clear. Paul Krugman wrote a pretty good smack-down of all the columnists and talking heads now tripping all over themselves in their abrupt pivot from Hillary Hate to Hillary Love She didn’t change. Her TV persona – her “brand” – has improved.  The irony is that it was fear of her stumbling that caused her pal Debbie Wasserman Schultz to limit the Democratic debates to an undemocratic, ridiculous six. The blessing is that the pundits are finally beginning to stifle their annoying “Draft Biden” chatter.  But guess what? Early polls, albeit unscientific, show that as far as regular citizens are concerned, it was Bernie who “crushed it.” In choosing not to attack Hillary on such things as the Saudis contributing $1 million to the Clinton Foundation after her State Department sold them $20 billion worth of lethal weapons, he showed himself to be a focused, decent man more interested in defending the downtrodden than in scoring points to win at any cost.  People don’t care about performances. We care, and Bernie cares, about how political corruption enables an oligarchy that is ruining millions of our lives.”  Now here’s Mr. Cohen:

Throughout the Obama years, when international crises and possible American intervention were discussed in the Situation Room, one question from the president was likely to recur: “O.K., but what happens after that?”

It could be the establishment of a no-fly zone in Syria, or setting up a safe area for Syrians fleeing, or putting troops back in Iraq after Islamic State militants overran Mosul — always there was concern over a slippery slope. President Obama, under his Doctrine of Restraint described in my last column, has been the king of the slippery-slope school of foreign policy. His decision to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan, rather than withdraw them as previously planned, appears to reflect an acknowledgement that American retrenchment can be perilous.

The thing about the president’s what-next refrain was that it inevitably led to a range of dire scenarios. Suppose an American forward air controller in Iraq gets captured by Islamic State and burned alive? Suppose you’ve cratered the airfields in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad, rather than suing for peace, steps up his brutal ground campaign and resists? Well, take out his air defense sites and fast-forward arming the opposition. But then you get Russians and Iranians and Hezbollah pouring in to help Assad, and before you know it you’ve got 150,000 American troops on the ground invested in another intractable war.

O.K., but what happens after that?

Obama came to office at a time when sins of commission (read Iraq and Afghanistan) outweighed sins of omission. Inclined to lawyerly prudence, yet not without Wilsonian idealism, he was determined to reverse that.

He has sought, with some conspicuous exceptions, including the important Iran nuclear deal, what Robert Blackwill, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described to me as “a risk-free foreign policy.” For example, drone attacks on nations without air defenses are near risk-free.

But because there are always reasons not to act, the pursuit of the risk-free tends to pass the initiative to adversaries who believe they can escalate with no fear of American reprisal — see Russia and China. That is the freelance world we now live in. Syria is the American sin of omission par excellence, a diabolical complement to the American sin of commission in Iraq — two nations now on the brink of becoming ex-nations.

A pivotal moment came in 2013 when Obama was on the verge of a military response to Assad for crossing the American “red line” on chemical weapons. The British Parliament had voted against participation. Obama spoke to David Cameron, the British prime minister, who explained the situation. He spoke to François Hollande, the French president, who said France stood shoulder-to-shoulder with America. Targets had been identified. A long meeting of Obama’s top advisers was held on Friday, Aug. 30. The consensus was that the British vote did not change the calculus for action. The president asked if he had the constitutional authority to go ahead. He was told he did. When the meeting broke up, military action was imminent.

Then the president went for a now famous walk and in effect changed his mind. As a result, America’s word is worth less in the world. Syria could not be worse off than it is. “When your strongest asset, your military, is not ready to engage, people will factor you out,” Vali Nasr, the dean of the John Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies, told me.

But could it have been otherwise? American power in 2015 is not American power in 1990. Hyper-connectivity and the rise of the rest will constrain any president even if the United States, as Hillary Clinton put it, is not Denmark.

Suppose — that word — Obama had been frank and said: “My job is to reduce the footprint of America in a changed world and empower other countries to do more.” That’s a total sinker in American politics.

It’s unthinkable because most Americans are still hard-wired to American exceptionalism, the notion that America is not America if it gives up on spreading liberty. So it becomes hard to find a foreign-policy language that’s aligned to reality but does not smack of “declinism” — fatal for any politician. Republican bloviating about “weakling” Obama notwithstanding, any future president will face this foreign-policy dilemma: The distance between America’s idea of itself and what it can plausibly achieve is widening.

That said, I believe Obama has sold America short. The foreign-policy pendulum that swings between expansiveness and retrenchment has swung too far. His shift from indispensable power to indispensable partner has backfired when partner after partner — the Afghan Army, the Iraqi Army — has proved ineffective. The United States is not even at the Minsk table on the Ukraine crisis. Germany is.

“Just do it” might have served Obama better at times than “What next?” Between paralysis and 350,000 troops on the ground there are options. Not every intervention is a slippery slope. The question, post-Syria, is whether the next president can make American power credible enough to stop this crisis or another in the Middle East, the Baltics, or the South China Sea, from spiraling out of control.

And the rattling of sabers and swinging of dicks continues.  Just about the only thing you need to know about Mr. Cohen is that he was a supporter of the Iraq war.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

So, Hillary Clinton. Skipping down the street. Sun is shining. A small and brightly colored bird is perching on her shoulder. Look — is that a rainbow?

Wow, what a good month she’s having. Certainly she’s due, by the sheer laws of probability. Nobody has as many bad months as Hillary Clinton. But this is really one heck of a run. Do you think there’s been an intervention? I just looked up a magic spell for “achieving a dream job” and it involves candles, cinnamon incense and bergamot oil. Just saying.

She had a great debate Tuesday night. Her main opponent, Bernie Sanders, said America was sick and tired of the damned email thing! This is actually classic Sanders, who combines persistent truth-telling with extreme crankiness. But convenient as all get-out for Clinton, who did an excellent job herself on most of the questions. In a perfect world she wouldn’t have said “I represented Wall Street,” but all in all, a home run.

And think of all the other stuff that’s been falling her way. She aced her spot on “Saturday Night Live.” This sort of thing is actually not all that tough for politicians — you just have to look sort of human. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Ted Cruz playing a sympathetic bartender.

And there’s Benghazi. The Republican-controlled House investigative committee that’s scheduled to grill her next week is beset by every disaster short of a plague of locusts. First House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy went on TV and utterly ruined the committee’s credibility by suggesting its purpose was to destroy Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The bad juju kept spreading. McCarthy dropped out of the race for speaker of the House, leaving the Republican majority in disarray and chaos. Maybe Clinton has been using that Macbeth recipe, the one involving eye of newt.

Then a former employee of the investigative committee popped up out of nowhere claiming he had been fired because he didn’t want to spend all of his time looking for ways to destroy Hillary Clinton. Double the newts and don’t hold back on the toe of frog.

A Times story by Eric Lipton, Noam Scheiber and Michael Schmidt explored the committee’s $4.5 million, 17-month history and was full of fascinating details beginning with the planned interviews that never occurred and hearings that never happened. Meanwhile, according to the aggrieved ex-employee, some staffers used their spare time to form a gun-buying club, while members held “wine Wednesdays” at which they sipped from glasses labeled “Glacial Pace.”

The committee leaders could, of course, still come down hard on Clinton. But if they do, you have to hope at some point she’ll bring up the guns and wine.

Right now, the Clinton campaign is still in the post-debate glow. More viewers watched it than the season premiere of “The Walking Dead”! People, when you are depressed about the state of the nation, think about the fact that more people wanted to see Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on CNN than tuned in for the most popular zombie TV series in history.

Clinton is almost always good in debates — she hit a question about Carly Fiorina’s opposition to paid family leave out of the park — and it didn’t hurt to be a woman surrounded by four crabby-looking men, only one of whom seemed to have any actual excuse for being there. Some people felt the high point was Sanders’s denouncing the email questions, but I personally treasure the moment when Lincoln Chafee called himself “a block of granite.”

Sanders did fine. In fact, he seemed to win the focus groups, and small donors poured in a new font of money. The country deserves a two-person debate between him and Clinton, maybe just about the financial industry. The next morning we would be discussing the Glass-Steagall Act from coast to coast, which would definitely make “The Walking Dead” ratings story pale by comparison.

But the first-debate danger for Clinton was mainly that one of the lesser-known candidates would come out of left field and throw her off balance, with jabs about ethics and emails. It is hard to express the degree to which that did not happen. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who was the original favorite to be Guy Who Gives Hillary a Run, looked at times as if he wanted to cry. The next morning O’Malley sent out a mass mailing announcing that the debate “wasn’t about me” but instead about … the death penalty.

It was possibly the weirdest campaign email I have ever seen in my life. Maybe O’Malley got caught up by the Hillary Clinton success spell. We’ll know it’s real next week if they open the Benghazi hearing and the Capitol starts to levitate.

And another one’s in the bag…  In the comments “Meredith” from NYC had this to say:  “Sanders ‘extreme crankiness’ has to be compulsively mentioned, even when ‘he did fine’? Thanks. Yes, HC did well, but not THAT well.  I don’t get why there’s an obvious NY Times bandwagon going on. First it was all dissing Sanders and now all rah rah Hillary. All alike. Can’t there be some variation? Some issue discussion instead of just horse race?  All the news that’s fit to print? Or all the news that’s fit for —what? Cable TV? The Web?  Readers might like to know, what do the op ed columnists think of fair wealth tax rates, a financial transaction tax, reversing Citizens United, restoring regulations, and how to finance college tuition—just to name a few. Is it verboten to discuss unions and min wage? Is it too much of a stretch to switch to these from the horse race, once in a while?   This is the nation’s most prestigious and authoritative newspaper? Seems as the quality of our campaigns declines, so does our media coverage.  Of course the Dems had a better debate than Gop—anything would be better. If the inmates of an insane asylum staged a debate for who would be president of the inmate association—it would sound like the Republican debates!  Did the decline in media start with television changing over to news infotainment, and cable TV 24 hour blather to fill air time, then the web and instant trendiness and click bait? Then the newspapers, trying for revenue, follow along? Will this get worse? What could reverse it? It’s big money in politics of course.”


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