Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 8, 2016

In “Hillary Has ‘Half a Dream'” Mr. Blow says practicality and realistic goals are proving to be a handicap for Mrs. Clinton when it comes to young voters.  Mr. Cohen has produced a thing called “America’s Syrian Shame” in which he howls that Putin’s policy is hard to distinguish from Obama’s, and that America’s capitulation is complete, with appalling results.  In the comments “TDurk” from Rochester, NY had this to say:  “Really? President Obama’s Syrian policy has contributed to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino? That our president is not really interested in Europe?  When did Roger Cohen announce his candidacy for the republican presidential nomination? His non-logic and emotional assertions would fit in perfectly with that political circus.”  Prof. Krugman considers “The Time-Loop Party” and says Republican candidates keep repeating their canned policy statements, despite evidence that these prescriptions have failed in the real world.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Durham, NH:

One of the most striking statistics to come of the Iowa caucus entry polling was the enormous skew of young voters away from Hillary Clinton and to Bernie Sanders. Only 14 percent of caucusgoers 17 to 29 supported Clinton, while 84 percent supported Sanders.

On Thursday, I traveled to the University of New Hampshire, site of a debate between Clinton and Sanders that night. Before the debate, I mingled on campus with people rallying for both candidates, with the Sanders rally many times larger than the Clinton one. The energy for Sanders at the school was electric.

For the actually debate, I went to a debate-watching party for Clinton supporters at the Three Chimneys Inn, just off campus. There were more heads of white hair in that room than a jar of cotton balls.

The two scenes so close to each other drove home the point for me: Hillary Clinton has a threatening young voter problem.

Young folks are facing a warming planet, exploding student debt, stunted mobility, stagnant wages and the increasing corporatization of the country due in part to the increasing consolidation of wealth and the impact of that wealth on American institutions.

Young folks are staring down a barrel and they want to put a flower in it, or conversely, smash it to bits. And they’re angry at those who came before them for doing too little, too late. They want a dramatic correction, and they want it now.

Sanders’s rhetoric plays well to young folks’ anxiety and offers a ray of hope. He wants to fix the system they see as broken, and he’s not new to those positions. He has held many of the same positions most of his life, but they have never had as much resonance as they do now. Never mind that Sanders has been in Congress for decades and doesn’t have the stronger record of accomplishments, as my colleague Nick Kristof put it last week.

Sanders is good at setting the goals, but not so good at getting there.

When people question Sanders on the feasibility of pushing his ambitious policies through an obstructionist, Republican-controlled Congress, he often responds with the broad and loose talk of a political revolution, like he put it in his closing remarks Thursday:

“I do believe we need a political revolution where millions of people stand up and say loudly and clearly that our government belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

What he is saying is that a political revolution, meaning massive numbers of new voters and unprecedented voter turnout by people who support his policies, would result in flipping control of Congress and an easier path to his policies’ passage and implementation.

But if Iowa is any measure, that revolution has yet to materialize, and indeed, may never.

Iowa did see a record number of caucusgoers … for the Republican candidate. The number of Democratic caucusgoers fell significantly, and half of those went to Clinton.

As RealClearPolitics reported:

“The trend line is positive for Republicans (turnout up 54 percent from 2012) and negative for Democrats (turnout was down 22 percent from 2008).”

This doesn’t sound anything like the kind of numbers Sanders would need to push his agenda forward, and he knows that. If anything, it sounds like the budding of another Republican revolution. But these facts are ones that would never pass Sanders’s lips. They would puncture the balloon and end his ascendance.

Clinton, on the other hand, represents much of what they distrust or even despise. There is an aura of ethical ambiguity — from the emails to the Wall Street paid speeches to the super PACs. (There is growing pressure for her to release the transcripts of those speeches and have the content of them compared to her public pronouncement.) There is the legacy of her military hawkishness, including her Iraq war vote. There is the articulation of her positions that are at odds with young folks’ aspirations and sensibilities, like saying Thursday, “I don’t believe in free college,” and saying that she continues to support capital punishment.

But possibly the most damaging of Clinton’s attributes is, ironically, her practicality. As one person commented to me on social media: Clinton is running an I-Have-Half-A-Dream campaign. That simply doesn’t inspire young people brimming with the biggest of dreams. Clinton’s message says: Aim lower, think smaller, move slower. It says, I have more modest ambitions, but they are more realistic.

As Clinton put it Thursday in a swipe at Sanders, “I’m not making promises that I cannot keep.”

But the pragmatic progressive line is not going to help her chip away at Sanders’s support among the young. That support is hardening into hipness. Supporting Sanders is quickly becoming the thing to do if you are young and want to appeal to those who are. Clinton’s time to reverse that is quickly running out, and a strategy of simply holding out long enough so that the heavy black and brown support for her counters it may not be sufficient.

And if those young voters don’t turn out and vote for Hillary if she’s the nominee they will deserve the hell that they’ll unleash on us all.  Now here’s Mr. Cohen, foaming at the mouth:

The Putin policy in Syria is clear enough as the encirclement of rebel-held Aleppo proceeds and tens of thousands more Syrians flee toward the Turkish border. It is to entrench the brutal government of Bashar al-Assad by controlling the useful part of Syrian territory, bomb the moderate opposition into submission, block any possibility of Western-instigated regime change, use diplomatic blah-blah in Geneva as cover for changing the facts on the ground, and, maybe fifth or sixth down the list, strengthen the Syrian Army to the point it may one day confront the murderous jihadist stronghold of the Islamic State.

The troubling thing is that the Putin policy on Syria has become hard to distinguish from the Obama policy.

Sure, the Obama administration still pays lip service to the notion that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution, and that if the Syrian leader may survive through some political transition period he cannot remain beyond that. But these are words. It is President Vladimir Putin and Russia who are “making the weather” in Syria absent any corresponding commitment or articulable policy from President Obama.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, is now virtually encircled by the Syrian Army. A war that has already produced a quarter of a million dead, more than 4.5 million refugees, some 6.5 million internally displaced, and the destabilization of Europe through a massive influx of terrorized people, is about to see further abominations as Aleppo agonizes.

Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria. It is already the Munich.

By which I mean that the city’s plight today, its exposure to Putin’s whims and a revived Assad’s pitiless designs, is a result of the fecklessness and purposelessness over almost five years of the Obama administration. The president and his aides have hidden at various times behind the notions that Syria is marginal to core American national interests; that they have thought through the downsides of intervention better than others; that the diverse actors on the ground are incomprehensible or untrustworthy; that there is no domestic or congressional support for taking action to stop the war or shape its outcome; that there is no legal basis for establishing “safe areas” or taking out Assad’s air power; that Afghanistan and Iraq are lessons in the futility of projecting American power in the 21st century; that Syria will prove Russia’s Afghanistan as it faces the ire of the Sunni world; and that the only imperative, whatever the scale of the suffering or the complete evisceration of American credibility, must be avoidance of another war in the Middle East.

Where such feeble evasions masquerading as strategy lead is to United States policy becoming Putin’s policy in Syria, to awkward acquiescence to Moscow’s end game, and to embarrassed shrugs encapsulating the wish that — perhaps, somehow, with a little luck — Putin may crush ISIS.

Obama’s Syrian agonizing, his constant what-ifs and recurrent “what then?” have also lead to the slaughter in Paris and San Bernardino. They have contributed to a potential unraveling of the core of the European Union as internal borders eliminated on a free continent are re-established as a response to an unrelenting refugee tide — to which the United States has responded by taking in around 2,500 Syrians since 2012, or about 0.06 percent of the total.

“The Syrian crisis is now a European crisis,” a senior European diplomat told me. “But the president is not interested in Europe.” That is a fair assessment of the first postwar American leader for whom the core trans-Atlantic alliance was something to be dutifully upheld rather than emotionally embraced.

Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements.

Obama’s decision in 2013, at a time when ISIS scarcely existed, not to uphold the American “red line” on Assad’s use of chemical weapons was a pivotal moment in which he undermined America’s word, incurred the lasting fury of Sunni Gulf allies, shored up Assad by not subjecting him to serious one-off punitive strikes, and opened the way for Putin to determine Syria’s fate.

Putin policy is American policy because the United States has offered no serious alternative. As T.S. Eliot wrote after Munich in 1938, “We could not match conviction with conviction, we had no ideas with which we could either meet or oppose the ideas opposed to us.” Syria has been the bloody graveyard of American conviction.

It is too late, as well as pure illusion, to expect significant change in Obama’s Syria policy. Aleppo’s agony will be drawn-out. But the president should at least do everything in his power, as suggested in a report prepared by Michael Ignatieff at the Harvard Kennedy School, to “surge” the number of Syrian refugees taken in this year to 65,000 from his proposed 10,000. As the report notes, “If we allow fear to dictate policy, terrorists win.”

Putin already has.

And now we finally get to Prof. Krugman:

By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Mr. Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

These are related stories.

Mr. Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

The truth is that the whole G.O.P. seems stuck in a time loop, saying and doing the same things over and over. And unlike Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day,” Republicans show no sign of learning anything from experience.

Think about the doctrines every Republican politician now needs to endorse, on pain of excommunication.

First, there’s the ritual denunciation of Obamacare as a terrible, very bad, no good, job-killing law. Did I mention that it kills jobs? Strange to say, this line hasn’t changed at all despite the fact that we’ve gained 5.7 million private-sector jobs since January 2014, which is when the Affordable Care Act went into full effect.

Then there’s the assertion that taxing the rich has terrible effects on economic growth, and conversely that tax cuts at the top can be counted on to produce an economic miracle.

This doctrine was tested more than two decades ago, when Bill Clinton raised tax rates on high incomes; Republicans predicted disaster, but what we got was the economy’s best run since the 1960s. It was tested again when George W. Bush cut taxes on the wealthy; Republicans predicted a “Bush boom,” but actually got a lackluster expansion followed by the worst slump since the Great Depression. And it got tested a third time after President Obama won re-election, and tax rates at the top went up substantially; since then we’ve gained eight million private-sector jobs.

Oh, and there’s also the spectacular failure of the Kansas experiment, where huge tax cuts have created a budget crisis without delivering any hint of the promised economic miracle.

But Republican faith in tax cuts as a universal economic elixir has, if anything, grown stronger, with Mr. Rubio, in particular, going even further than the other candidates by promising to eliminate all taxes on capital gains.

Meanwhile, on foreign policy the required G.O.P. position has become one of utter confidence in the effectiveness of military force. How did that work in Iraq? Never mind: The only reason anybody in the world fails to do exactly what America wants must be because our leadership is lily-livered if not treasonous. And diplomacy, no matter how successful, is denounced as appeasement.

Not incidentally, the shared Republican stance on foreign policy is basically the same view Richard Hofstadter famously described in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”: Whenever America fails to impose its will on the rest of the world, it must be because it has been betrayed. The John Birch Society has won the war for the party’s soul.

But don’t all politicians spout canned answers that bear little relationship to reality? No.

Like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a genuine policy wonk, who can think on her feet and clearly knows what she is talking about on many issues. Bernie Sanders is much more of a one-note candidate, but at least his signature issue — rising inequality and the effects of money on politics — reflects real concerns. When you revisit Democratic debates after what went down Saturday, it doesn’t feel as if you’re watching a different party, it feels as if you’ve entered a different intellectual and moral universe.

So how did this happen to the G.O.P.? In a direct sense, I suspect that it has a lot to do with Foxification, the way Republican primary voters live in a media bubble into which awkward facts can’t penetrate. But there must be deeper causes behind the creation of that bubble.

Whatever the ultimate reason, however, the point is that while Mr. Rubio did indeed make a fool of himself on Saturday, he wasn’t the only person on that stage spouting canned talking points that are divorced from reality. They all were, even if the other candidates managed to avoid repeating themselves word for word.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

February 4, 2016

In “White America’s ‘Broken Heart'” Mr. Blow says the urgency of inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are now experiencing what many minorities here have long experienced.  Mr. Kristof has fallen into lock step with the Times and is asking Bernie Sanders questions nobody asks Clinton.  In “2 Questions for Bernie Sanders” he says an  admirer could use some reassurance.  Well, Nick, why don’t you ask for the same “reassurance” from Hillary?  (Who, by the way, isn’t all that much younger than Bernie despite what you imply.  And he seems to have more energy.)  Ms. Collins, in “And Now, the Marco Memo,” says he’s still giving much the same speech but not the same stances.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Sunday, at the Corinthian Baptist Church in Des Moines, former President Bill Clinton, looking frail and sounding faint, stumped for his wife, working through her qualifications with a husband’s devotion and a Svengali’s facility.

But one thing he said stood out to me for its clear rhetorical framing.

He attributed much of the anger that’s present in the electorate to anxiety over a changing demographic profile of the country, but then said: We are going to share the future. The only question is: What will be the terms of the sharing?

This idea of negotiating the terms of sharing the future is an expansive one, on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but it also seems to me to be an internal debate white America is having with itself.

Much of the energy on both the left and the right this cycle is coming from white Americans who are rejecting the direction of America and its institutions. There is a profound disappointment. On one hand, it’s about fear of dislocation of supremacy, and the surrendering of power and the security it provides. On the other hand, it’s about disillusionment that the game is rigged and the turf is tilted. It is about defining who created this country’s bounty and who has most benefited from it.

White America is wrestling with itself, torn between two increasingly distant visions and philosophies, trying to figure out if the country should retreat from its present course or be remade.

The results from the Iowa caucuses revealed that Republican caucusgoers gave roughly even support to the top three finishers — Ted Cruz, a much-loathed anti-institutional who has shown a pyromaniac’s predilection for wanting to torch Washington rather than make it work; the real estate developer spouting nativist and even fascist policies with the fervor of a prosperity preacher; and Marco Rubio, a too-slick-to-be-trusted stripling who oozes ambition with every obviously rehearsed response.

On the left, the white vote was nearly evenly split in Iowa between Hillary Clinton, a pragmatist who believes that the system can be fixed, and Bernie Sanders, a revolutionary who believes that system must be dismantled. At least on the Democratic side, age, income and liberalism seemed to be the fault lines — older, wealthier, more moderate people preferred Clinton and younger, less wealthy and “very liberal” people preferred Sanders.

Clinton won the support of nonwhites in Iowa 58 percent to Sanders’s 34 percent. This gap also exists — and has remained stubbornly persistent — in national polls, and in some polls is even wider. For instance, according to a January Monmouth University Poll, nationwide black and Latino support for Clinton was 71 percent as opposed to 21 percent for Sanders. At this point, this is a settled issue for nonwhite voters, and those voters are likely to be Democratic primary king- or queen-makers.

During Bill Clinton’s speech on Sunday, he brought up the recent reportabout the rising death rate among some white people in America.

As Gina Kolata reported in November in The New York Times:

“Something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling.”

He rattled off the reasons for this rise — suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses — and then concluded that these white Americans were dying of “a broken heart.”

It was, again, an interesting framing: that these people dying of sadness and vice were simply the leading edge of a tragic, morbid expression of a disappointment and fear shadowing much of white America.

America has a gauzy, romanticized version of its history that is largely fiction. According to that mythology, America rose to greatness by sheer ruggedness, ingenuity and hard work. It ignores or sidelines the tremendous human suffering of African slaves that fueled that financial growth, and the blood spilled and dubious treaties signed with Native Americans that fueled its geographic growth. It ignores that the prosperity of some Americans always hinged on the oppression of other Americans.

Much of America’s past is the story of white people benefiting from a system that white people designed and maintained, which increased their chances of success as it suppressed those same chances in other groups. Those systems persist to this day in some disturbing ways, but the current, vociferous naming and challenging of those systems, the placing of the lamp of truth near the seesaw of privilege and oppression, has provoked a profound sense of discomfort and even anger.

In Sanders’s speech following the Iowa caucuses, he veered from his position that this country “in many ways was created” on “racist principles,” and instead said: “What the American people understand is this country was based and is based on fairness.” Nonwhite people in this country understand that as a matter of history and heritage this simply isn’t true, but it is a hallowed ideal for white America and one that centers the America ethos.

Indeed, the current urgency about inequality as an issue is really about how some white Americans are coming to live an experience that many minorities in this country have long lived — structural inequity has leapt the racial barrier — and that the legacy to which they fully assumed they were heirs is increasingly beyond their grasp.

Inequality has been a feature of the African-American condition in this country since the first black feet touched this ground.

Last month, the MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes tweeted: “This campaign is starting to feel more and more like a long, national nervous breakdown.” For white America, I believe this is true.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof, who’s starting to annoy me:

When Bernie Sanders won election as mayor of Burlington, Vt., in 1981, I called his office to see if there was a story there about a socialist elected official. I was interning at The Washington Post (I didn’t mention the intern part!) and spoke at length to some assistant who answered the phone in the mayor’s office.

I asked about Sanders’s plans, and the aide kept answering with “we” — which I thought a nice glimpse of contagious office socialism. After half an hour, I had enough to check with my editor, so I asked the aide’s name. “Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, “actually, I’m Bernie Sanders.”

Sanders’s lack of political airs has helped catapult him forward in the presidential race, overcoming a 50-point deficit to just about tie Hillary Clinton in Iowa. He comes across as winningly uncalculated: Other candidates kiss babies; Sanders seems to fumble for a baby’s “off” switch so he can tell you more about inequality in America. Most politicos sweet-talk voters; he bellows at them.

I admire Sanders’s passion, his relentless focus on inequality and his consistency. When he was sworn in as mayor of Burlington, he declared: “The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the millions of families in the middle are gradually sliding out of the middle class and into poverty.” That has remained his mantra across 35 years. And yet, I still have two fundamental questions for Sanders:

Can you translate your bold vision into reality?

On that, frankly, I’m skeptical. I’m for Medicare for All, but it won’t happen. And if it did, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, found that Sanders’s sums come up short by $3 trillion over a decade.

Likewise, Sanders says he would prod America’s allies in the Middle East to lead the charge to defeat the Islamic State. Yes, but how? The United States has already been trying unsuccessfully to get these allies to do more against ISIS. What new leverage does he bring?

The Washington Post last month published a scathing editorial headlined “Bernie Sanders’s Fiction-Filled Campaign.” It derided his “fantastical claims” and added: “Sanders is not a brave truth-teller. He is a politician selling his own brand of fiction.”

I think that’s too harsh, for Sanders panders less than other politicians (a very low bar), and he has often staked out lonely positions that turned out to be correct—such as his opposition to the Iraq war. But there remains this open question of how he could achieve his ambitious agenda.

I also wonder if his age may be relevant here: Sanders would be 75 when he took office, by far the oldest person to become president (Reagan was 69; Clinton would be a slightly younger 69). Sanders now is indefatigable, but people often slow down in their late 70s and their 80s.

Another reason for skepticism is his congressional record. In 25 years in Congress, Sanders has been primary sponsor of just three bills that became law, and two were simply to rename post offices in Vermont; he did better with amendments. Clinton wasn’t particularly effective as a legislator, either, but to me Sanders’s record suggests that his strength is as a passionate advocate, not as a deal-maker who gets results.

Can you get elected? Or would your nomination make a President Cruz more likely?

When voters are polled today about how they would vote in a general election, Sanders does pretty well. For example, he beats Ted Cruz in the RealClearPolitics average, while Clinton loses to Cruz. But at this stage that’s almost meaningless: Republicans are blasting Clinton while ignoring Sanders. If he were the nominee, he would be savaged.

One particularly sobering item for Sanders supporters: A Gallup poll last year asking voters what kind of person they would be unwilling to consider voting for. Six percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic, and 7 percent wouldn’t support a black or a Jew. Some 24 percent wouldn’t vote for a gay candidate, and more than a third would refuse to vote for a Muslim or an atheist.

However, the most objectionable kind of person by far was a socialist. Fifty percent of Americans said they would be unwilling to consider voting for a socialist.

Maybe Sanders could convince them that a “democratic socialist” isn’t exactly a socialist, or maybe he could charm some voters into rethinking their beliefs. He has done just that very successfully in Vermont, a state where he now wins elections by overwhelming margins, and skeptics have been underestimating him for 35 years. But if a Democratic nominee starts off with half the voters unwilling to consider someone like him, that’s a huge advantage for the Republican nominee.

So can he accomplish his goals, and is he electable? Lots of us admire Sanders and we would like reassurance.

Bite me, Nick.  And if Cruz winds up with the nomination he’ll have to confront the “uncanny valley” impression he oozes.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Here we are, in the Marco Rubio Moment.

The Republican establishment is thrilled: A moderate-sounding Gen X senator from a swing state! And one so good at spin he managed to give a victory speech in Iowa after he came in third. No wonder all the other candidates are jealous.

“This isn’t a student council election, everybody. This is an election for president of the United States. Let’s get the boy in the bubble out of the bubble,” snarked Chris Christie. He was referring to Rubio’s tendency to be rather scripted in his appearances — one New Hampshire reportercompared him to “a computer algorithm designed to cover talking points.”

Christie, pressing further — and when does Chris Christie not? — has also been saying that the speech Rubio sticks to is the same one he’s been giving since 2010. It’s true that there’s always the part about his parents, the striving Cuban immigrants. And you do get the feeling you’re supposed to vote for him because his dad and mom believed in the American dream.

As a young man, Rubio himself was not particularly hard working. In fact, in his memoir he admits he could be “insufferably demanding.” But he did sympathize with his parents’ struggles, and when his father, a bartender, went on strike in 1984, young Marco became “a committed union activist.”

And then — American dream! — the bartender’s son became a senator, who opposes raising the minimum wage and wants to eliminate “rules that empower unions.” You know, you grow.

Rubio was a slow starter, education-wise, but he eventually graduated from law school, saddled with a load of student debt. This is, as he always points out, a familiar American story. The next part, where he instantly runs for office and acquires a billionaire benefactor who helps him out by underwriting low-stress jobs for Rubio and his wife, is slightly less average.

The $800,000 advance he got for his memoir — the one that fails to explain his trajectory on the union issue — is also not exactly typical. But he’s been a terrible money manager, which he explains by saying that “I didn’t inherit any money.”

On the issues, Rubio says he has a new generation’s answers to the nation’s economic problems. The answers are mainly about reducing business taxes and regulations, but he says it in a much more youthful way.

He’s anti-choice, even for victims of rape and incest. Lately, he’s taken to pointing to instances when he supported legislation that did include an exception. This is true. As long as a bill makes it harder for women to have access to abortion rights, he’s there.

And then there’s the great Immigration Switcheroo. Follow the timeline:

2010 — Running for the U.S. Senate, Rubio is against giving people who are in the country without documentation any path to citizenship. That’s “amnesty,” and it’s just wrong, like failing to enforce the speed limit.

2013 — Marco is a senator, and he’s totally changed his mind about that path-to-citizenship matter. Why do you think that happened? Uncharitable observers thought he wanted to cozy up to big Republican donors who like the idea. But maybe he was just … growing.

He becomes one of the famous bipartisan “Gang of Eight” pushing for immigration reform. Rubio is a valuable partner for the Gang, and he makes them pay with repeated concessions, including a very strong provision for additional border security. Finally, the path-to-citizenship bill passes the Senate 68 to 32. “We are a compassionate people,” he says on the Senate floor.

2013 — Fast forward a few weeks. The Tea Party is enraged, the House is unenthusiastic and Rubio is backtracking wildly. “Look,” he tells Fox News, “it’s not the most important issue facing America. Obamacare is more important, for example.”

2015 — Marco Rubio is a candidate for president. He hates “amnesty.” And he says you can’t have immigration reform until you have additional border security.

In the competition with the other super-conservative Cuban-American contender, Ted Cruz, Rubio is regarded as more likable. This is not a heavy lift. He is also competing with Cruz for the affection of Christian conservatives, and while Rubio has always mentioned God in his political speeches, lately he’s been ramping things up. One of his ads in Iowa was about “the free gift of salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ.”

Rubio himself goes to two churches. Sometimes the family attends a Baptist-affiliated service on Saturday night and a Catholic Mass on Sunday.

Quick question: How would you feel about a presidential candidate who’s both Protestant and Catholic?

A) That’s great. Maybe it’s a sign he’s open-minded. B) That’s O.K., unless it’s just another way to fudge his positions. C) I am strongly against bringing a person’s religion into the political arena. Which is why I wish Marco Rubio would stop telling us about his.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

February 1, 2016

In “Iowa’s Black Caucusgoers” Mr. Blow says despite their relatively small numbers, black voters on Monday could make a difference in the direction of the presidential campaign.  In “Italian-Iranian Hall of Mirrors” Mr. Cohen says the West has not capitulated by hiding the Capitoline nudes. But Italy has again failed the test of seriousness.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Wind, Sun and Fire:”  Will we have a renewables revolution? He says it may be closer than you think.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Monday, Iowans will become the first people in the nation to officially express their choices for the next president of the United States.

But what interested me in particular was that a subset of those voters will be black. And since black voters in national polls are overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelming prefer Hillary Clinton to her rivals, it seemed important to explore how these voters are processing this election cycle and its candidates.

Over three days in Des Moines — from Friday to Sunday — I interviewed more than 30 black people, and spoke briefly to many more at a black church, a black-owned barbershop, a popular soul food restaurant and at African-American social events.

My first impression from these conversations was that there existed a staggering level of ambivalence and absence of enthusiasm. A surprising number of people said that they were undecided and started an answer with the clause, “If I had to chose …”

Furthermore, there also seemed to be a generational divide between the people who felt more embraced and informed by the political campaigns — the older ones, and those who felt more abandoned or ignored by them — the younger ones.

As Wayne Ford, co-founder and co-chairman of the Iowa Brown and Black Forum, told me Sunday, the level of excitement in the black community is “nowhere near where it was 2008” when Barack Obama was a candidate.

Also, the preference for Clinton over Bernie Sanders was a two-pronged assessment; it was a sophisticated weighing of comfort and of policy without an absolutism of good vs. bad, but rather a matter of degrees better or worse, more real or more fantasy.

On the policy front, many simply found Sanders’s policies unrealistically ambitious, an over-promising of giveaways. As one woman put it, “He sounds like Oprah: ‘You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car!’ How is he going to pay for all that?”

Clinton’s ambitions seemed to be judged more realistic.

Then, there was the problem of comfort.

The Clintons seem to intuitively understand the value of retail politics, particularly when doing outreach to marginalized groups. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from black people about the time that one of the Clintons — most often Bill Clinton — spoke at or showed up at an event important to the black community.

This means something. It adds to an aura of familiarity that doesn’t extend to Sanders.

For instance, on Saturday, the second and final day of the “I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa” annual festival, billed as the largest African-American festival in the state, Hillary Clinton was the only candidate to make an appearance, albeit incredibly briefly.

(Some may recognize the phrase “I’ll make me a world” as a line in James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” from his 1927 book of poems “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse.” Those who don’t may already be at a deficit in African-American outreach.)

This year for the first time a straw poll was taken at the event, and Clinton got more votes than all other candidates combined.

But it seemed to me that the support was remarkably soft. People, in general, weren’t charging toward passion but slumping toward acquiescence.

The next day, Bill Clinton strode into the Corinthian Baptist Church — accompanied by Representatives John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee. While Hillary had spoken for just a few minutes at the previous day’s event, Bill spoke so long at the church that there was no time left for a sermon.

Bill Clinton seems to understand the powerful role the griot plays in black culture, and he channels that spirit when he speaks, far more than any non-black candidate I’ve seen.

Maybe that is why no one I spoke to mentioned “how much damage the Clintons have done — the millions of families that were destroyed the last time they were in the White House thanks to their boastful embrace of the mass incarceration machine and their total capitulation to the right-wing narrative on race, crime, welfare and taxes,” as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” put it Thursday on her Facebook page.

For Sanders’s part, he seemed to be judged too unfamiliar and too absent, particularly down the homestretch. This feels to me like a terrible tactical error. No matter how much his positions and policies may benefit black voters, they are no more interested than any other group of voters in a long-distance love affair. You have to show up. You have to put in the time.

It is true that in the last census, blacks were only 3.7 percent of the population in Iowa, but that vote matters, not only for Iowa but also as a harbinger for those who will come after.

As Rick Wade, Obama’s director of African-American outreach in 2008, told CNN last week, “In both large and small caucuses, black voters can tilt the scales when the numbers are close.” He continued: “And strong black support in Iowa could affect black response and support in South Carolina and nationally.”

As an aside, if you haven’t read “God’s Trombones” find a copy.  You won’t regret it.  Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Italy’s decision to cover up the nudes at the Capitoline Museum in deference to the sensibilities of the visiting Glasgow-educated Iranian president has been widely interpreted as final proof of the capitulation of Western civilization to theocratic Islam.

It was, Hisham Melhem, a columnist for Al Arabiya English, suggested, a “brazen act of self-emasculation and obeisance.”

If Italy, inheritor of the glories of the Roman Empire, boxes up some of its finest works of art just in case the eye of President Hassan Rouhani should fall on the plum-like breast of a marble goddess, then nobody should be surprised if Islamic fanatics (Sunni, not Shia, but still) choose to destroy the glorious Greco-Roman legacy at Palmyra.

Or so the reasoning goes.

As a consequence of Boxgate, Italy has suffered ridicule. Nothing is worse than ridicule. Here it is merited. Not so much, I would argue, for Italy’s clumsy attempt at courtesy, for courtesy is important and has become an undervalued virtue. Reading the fall of the West into the concealment of a nude is going too far. Mistakes happen.

No, the ridicule is merited because the decision to hide the works of art was, it seems, taken by nobody. In Rome, the buck stops nowhere.

The Capitoline Venus just boxed herself up one night because she was bored and took a few deities along with her.

The prime minister, Matteo Renzi, did not know. The foreign minister did not know. The culture minister called the decision “incomprehensible.” They were, they insist (perhaps too much), as surprised as anyone to find all those white cubes — none, incidentally, provided by the prestigious White Cube gallery in London.

One account has it that a woman named Ilva Sapora who works at Palazzo Chigi, where Renzi’s office is located, made the decision after visiting the Capitoline with Iranian Embassy officials. “Nonsense,” Jas Gawronski, a former Italian member of the European Parliament, told me. The notion that a mid-level Chigi official in charge of ceremonial matters could have made the decision does seem far-fetched. Gawronski believes it is more likely to have been officials at the Farnesina, home to the Foreign Ministry.

One thing can be safely said: Nobody will ever know. I was a correspondent in Rome for some years in the 1980s. Periodically there would be developments in terrorist cases — the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969 or the Brescia bombing of 1974. Trials, verdicts, appeals followed one another. Facts grew murkier not clearer. It would take decades to arrive at convictions that did not resolve doubts. Italy has never had much time for the notion that justice delayed is justice denied.

Renzi has wanted to break with this Italy of murky secrets, modernize it, bring stable government and install accountability. He’s made significant changes in electoral and labor law. But he has a problem. At the same time as the Boxgate scandal was unfolding he was telling my colleague Jim Yardley in an interview that, “I’m the leader of a great country.”

A great country doesn’t have statues that box themselves up all by themselves.

Truth in Italy is elastic. A much-conquered country learned the wisdom of ambiguous expression, as for that matter did much-conquered Persia. The Italians say, “Se non é vero, é ben trovato” — roughly if it’s not true it ought to be.

At bottom, this story is one of an Iranian-Italian hall of mirrors with a pot of gold sitting in the middle of the hall valued at about $18 billion in new trade deals.

The Iranians insist nobody asked for those masterpieces of Classical humanism to be hidden: another case of nobody’s decision.

Iran too distrusts clarity. It is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as “taarof,” and “tagieh,” which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.

Speaking of truth denial, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has again questioned the existence of the Holocaust. He chose to do so in a video uploaded to his website on Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is to be another “Holocaust Cartoon and Caricature Contest” in June.

Needless to say this Holocaust denial is odious, the regime at its worst. It is also a sign of desperation among the hard-liners determined to block Rouhani’s opening to the world. They reckon Holocaust denial will derail any détente. The buzzword of the hard-liners is “nufuz,” or infiltration by the West. Iranians are being warned to guard against it in this month’s parliamentary elections.

You can hide a few statues in the Capitoline Museum, but you can’t hide the deep rifts between an Iranian society overwhelmingly in favor of opening to the West and a theocratic regime determined to ensure the nuclear deal does not lead to wider cooperation with the United States and Europe.

Far from finding itself in a state of capitulation, the West exerts a very powerful cultural magnetism, evident in the rabid desperation of its opponents.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So what’s really at stake in this year’s election? Well, among other things, the fate of the planet.

Last year was the hottest on record, by a wide margin, which should — but won’t — put an end to climate deniers’ claims that global warming has stopped. The truth is that climate change just keeps getting scarier; it is, by far, the most important policy issue facing America and the world. Still, this election wouldn’t have much bearing on the issue if there were no prospect of effective action against the looming catastrophe.

But the situation on that front has changed drastically for the better in recent years, because we’re now achingly close to achieving a renewable-energy revolution. What’s more, getting that energy revolution wouldn’t require a political revolution. All it would take are fairly modest policy changes, some of which have already happened and others of which are already underway. But those changes won’t happen if the wrong people end up in power.

To see what I’m talking about, you need to know something about the current state of climate economics, which has changed far more in recent years than most people seem to realize.

Most people who think about the issue at all probably imagine that achieving a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would necessarily involve big economic sacrifices. This view is required orthodoxy on the right, where it forms a sort of second line of defense against action, just in case denial of climate science and witch hunts against climate scientists don’t do the trick. For example, in the last Republican debate Marco Rubio — the last, best hope of the G.O.P. establishment — insisted, as he has before, that a cap-and-trade program would be “devastating for our economy.”

To find anything equivalent on the left you have to go far out of the mainstream, to activists who insist that climate change can’t be fought without overthrowing capitalism. Still, my sense is that many Democrats believe that politics as usual isn’t up to the task, that we need a political earthquake to make real action possible. In particular, I keep hearing that the Obama administration’s environmental efforts have been so far short of what’s needed as to be barely worth mentioning.

But things are actually much more hopeful than that, thanks to remarkable technological progress in renewable energy.

The numbers are really stunning. According to a recent report by the investment firm Lazard, the cost of electricity generation using wind power fell 61 percent from 2009 to 2015, while the cost of solar power fell 82 percent. These numbers — which are in line with other estimates — show progress at rates we normally only expect to see for information technology. And they put the cost of renewable energy into a range where it’s competitive with fossil fuels.

Now, there are still some issues special to renewables, in particular problems of intermittency: consumers may want power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. But this issue seems to be of diminishing significance, partly thanks to improving storage technology, partly thanks to the realization that “demand response” — paying consumers to cut energy use during peak periods — can greatly reduce the problem.

So what will it take to achieve a large-scale shift from fossil fuels to renewables, a shift to sun and wind instead of fire? Financial incentives, and they don’t have to be all that huge. Tax credits for renewables that were part of the Obama stimulus plan, and were extended under the recent budget deal, have already done a lot to accelerate the energy revolution. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which if implemented will create strong incentives to move away from coal, will do much more.

And none of this will require new legislation; we can have an energy revolution even if the crazies retain control of the House.

Now, skeptics may point out that even if all these good things happen, they won’t be enough on their own to save the planet. For one thing, we’re only talking about electricity generation, which is a big part of the climate change problem but not the whole thing. For another, we’re only talking about one country when the problem is global.

But I’d argue that the kind of progress now within reach could produce a tipping point, in the right direction. Once renewable energy becomes an obvious success and, yes, a powerful interest group, anti-environmentalism will start to lose its political grip. And an energy revolution in America would let us take the lead in global action.

Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen, with no political miracle necessary. But failure is also a very real possibility. Everything is hanging in the balance.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

January 28, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton’s Crucible” Mr. Blow says at the town hall, her back was against the wall, and she was brilliant. That seems to be when she gives her best performances.  It isn’t often that I disagree violently with Mr. Kristof, but today’s one of those days.  He gives us “Compassionate Conservatives, Hello?” in which he whines that Democrats are too quick to assume they have a monopoly on caring. He then says bravo to efforts by some Republicans to disprove them.  The “some Republicans” are headed up by the Zombie Eyed Granny Starver — Paul Ryan, of all people.  In the comments “JABarry” from Maryland had this to say:  “I’m sorry Mr. Kristof, but “Compassionate Conservative” is an oxymoron. Republicans have shown over many decades that their pretense of compassion is misleading advertisement…you must read the small print. For instance, you say Republicans “were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b.” Progressives agree, a job is a pathway out of poverty, BUT what do Republicans say in the small print? They say that you must give the wealthy class more tax cuts, then jobs will trickle down. They say, NO to raising the minimum wage because they don’t believe in a living wage; they are quite satisfied that people work for slave-pay. Republicans don’t believe in labor unions, they don’t believe in employment benefits such as healthcare, maternity leave, childcare leave, or equal pay for women. They don’t believe in social security, which is earned based on work. The bottom-line is Republicans actually spell aid: s-e-r-v-i-t-u-d-e. Servitude fits in with their vision of serfs serving the interests of the privileged wealthy class–that is the small print Republican definition of “Compassionate Conservative.””  Amen.  Ms. Collins is “Deconstructing Hillary and Bernie” and says let’s look at how the two Democratic candidates — Martin who? — differ.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Monday night’s presidential town hall provided the best format and platform yet for the Democratic candidates. Each was able to play to his or her strengths without the back-and-forth conflict-baiting that debate moderators seem to demand.

Even so, Hillary Clinton stood out.

Not only did she seem completely at ease in this environment, but she was also confident and wide-ranging in her answers, delivering many in an assertive tone that was one tick below yelling, and displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that few can match.

She was at the top of her game.

She had to be. Senator Bernie Sanders is breathing down her neck in Iowa with a message that’s increasingly popular among dissatisfied liberals and that she hasn’t been able to counter sufficiently. Furthermore, at the previous debate, she made a huge tactical error by attacking Sanders’s motives and integrity, a move that made her appear smaller, desperate and hostile.

At the town hall, Clinton’s back was against the wall, and she performed brilliantly. Indeed, that seems to be when she gives her best performances — when her back is against the wall. But she is often in that position because of her own doing, her own lapses in judgment, her own miscalculations.

It is an odd, cyclical exercise to continue to praise her for climbing out of holes she digs for herself. There almost seems to be a self-destructive, self-defeating impulse at play, a need to be perpetually down so that she can perpetually fight her way back up, a sort of crisis dependency.

It is hard to see how this seesawing can produce a winning campaign or a successful presidency, should she win it. She’s going to have to stay at or near the top of her game for the duration.

Then there is the strange reality that the ritual of her fighting her way back, even with strong showings like Monday’s, can take on air of disingenuousness in and of itself.

The cynical read is that these command performances are calculated, the maneuvering of a purely political being with a gift for guile.

That assessment isn’t particularly fair, but it is quite real. I believe it happens in part because there can be an animatronic plasticity present in her comportment and conveyance that raises questions of ambition versus authenticity. She is hands down the most broadly qualified and experienced among the candidates. But there remains an intangible quality that eludes her: connectivity. Even many people who admire her simply don’t trust her.

This is the same problem that, to varying degrees, Mitt Romney, Al Gore and Bob Dole had. It’s not fixable. Indeed, attempts to fix it feel even more forced and phony.

Another part of this problem stems from something far more tangible: the taint of scandal that has trailed her and her husband much of their lives.

One of the questions she got Monday night cut to the quick of this issue for her.

A young man rose and asked the following:

“It feels like there is a lot of young people like myself who are very passionate supporters of Bernie Sanders. And I just don’t see the same enthusiasm from younger people for you. In fact, I’ve heard from quite a few people my age that they think you’re dishonest, but I’d like to hear from you on why you feel the enthusiasm isn’t there.”

These are Clinton’s biggest weaknesses: people’s sense of her trustworthiness, and the relative lack of excitement she engenders, particularly among young voters.

Perceptions of honesty and trustworthiness are bad and getting worse, even among Democrats. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, among Democrats and independents leaning that way:

“Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October.”

Then there is Clinton’s mounting younger-voter problem.

According to a USA TODAY/Rock the Vote poll conducted this month, Sanders leads Clinton among millennial Democrats and independents (those age 18 to 34) 46 percent to 35 percent. Among millennial Democratic and independent women, Sanders’s lead in the poll was even greater: 50 percent to Clinton’s 31 percent. Sanders’s strength, and Clinton’s weakness, is mostly driven by the youngest millennials. According to the paper:

“Among both genders, Sanders has 57 percent backing in the 18-25 age group, according to the USA Today/Rock the Vote poll. That drops to 36 percent for those ages 26-34. For Clinton, the opposite is true. She gets 44 percent of those ages 26 to 34 and 25 percent of those 18-25.”

Sanders has become the cool uncle and Clinton has become the cold aunt.

Although many of Sanders’s plans appear on their face to be unworkable and, if they were workable, would cause a massive, possibly unprecedented, expansion of government in this country, I don’t think young people think about it that way. I believe that many of them see Sanders as someone committed to dismantling a broken system and its component broken institutions — financial, political and educational.

Millennials are notoriously distrusting of institutions. Sanders is anti-institution. The Clintons are an institution.

Clinton answered the question at the town hall mostly by evading it, and turning her attention to the constant in her life: her enemies and their attacks on her. She said at one point:

“You know, look, I’ve been around a long time. People have thrown all kinds of things at me. And you know I can’t keep up with it. I just keep going forward.”

Survival doesn’t excite, and it’s not proof of moral rectitude. But it is evidence of a certain kind of I-will-survive resilience and an I-know-how-to-survive savvy.

And that informs the choice Democrats have to make in choosing a nominee: Do they want to put forth a survivor in chief, of whom many are suspicious and about whom few are truly excited, or a dream in chief (in the candidacy of Sanders) who says all the things they want to hear but that they quietly know he’ll never be able to deliver?

Now here’s the oh-so-wrong Mr. Kristof:

Back in 2000, George W. Bush did something fascinating: On the campaign trail he preached “compassionate conservatism,” telling wealthy Republicans about the travails of Mexican-American immigrants and declaring to women in pearls that “the hardest job in America” is that of a single mother.

Those well-heeled audiences looked baffled, but applauded.

That instinct to show a little heart helped elect Bush but then largely disappeared from Republican playbooks and policy. Yet now, amid the Republican Party’s civil war, there are intriguing initiatives by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, and some other conservatives to revive an interest in the needy.

Liberals like myself may be tempted to dismiss these new efforts as mere marketing gestures, meant to whitewash what one of the initiatives acknowledges is “the longstanding view of a meanspirited conservatism.”

Maybe the liberal skeptics will be proved right. But we should still all root for these efforts, because ultimately whether the poor get help may depend less on Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders than on Republicans at every level. Whether Medicaid is expanded, whether we get high-quality pre-K, whether we tackle addiction, family planning and job training, whether lead continues to poison American children — all these will depend mostly on Republicans who control Congress and most states.

Moreover, Democrats are too quick to assume that they have a monopoly on compassion. President Bush, for example, didn’t govern nearly as compassionately as he campaigned. Yet his program against AIDS saved millions of lives. He did a stellar job battling malaria and pressing the fight against sex trafficking.

This will be even harder for Democrats to accept, but Republicans have also sometimes been proved right on poverty issues. They were right that the best way to spell aid is often j-o-b. They were right on the importance of strong two-parent families: We now know that children in single-mother families are five times as likely to live in poverty as those in married households.

So I’d be thrilled if Republicans participated in debates about poverty, rather than forfeited the terrain. A real debate would also elevate issues that now are largely neglected, and it would create an opening to hold politicians’ feet to the fire: If Ryan cares, then why did he try to slash budgets for evidence-based programs that help children?

One of the new initiatives is “Challenging the Caricature,” based on a document that will be presented at an event at Stanford’s Hoover Institution next week. Written by Michael Horowitz, Michael Novak, John O’Sullivan, Mona Charen, Linda Chavez and other prominent conservatives, it calls on the right to tackle human rights issues so as to shatter “the caricatures that define conservatives as uncaring.”

“Our values are regarded by millions of Americans as inconsistent with theirs and with America’s inherent decency,” the document warns.

Ryan moderated a forum this month on poverty that drew six Republican presidential hopefuls and tried to frame a G.O.P. perspective on the issue. “We now have a safety net that is designed to catch people falling into poverty,” Ryan said, “when what we really need is a safety net that is designed to help get people out of poverty.”

One reason for skepticism that any of this will get traction: Among the candidates who skipped the forum were the front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Neither seems interested in this arena.

A final initiative is an excellent plan to reduce poverty put together by a team from the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal Brookings Institution. The report pushes work requirements for government benefits, but also a modest rise in the minimum wage. Instead of increasing public funds for higher education, it suggests taking financial assistance that now goes to higher-income families and redirecting it to the neediest.

This report emphasizes that one way to bridge the political divide is to focus on evidence. We now have robust results showing that vocational programs like career academies help disadvantaged young people get jobs and raise their marriage rates.  Parent-coaching programs improve disadvantaged children’s outcomes so much that they save public money.

If you’re a liberal, you may be rolling your eyes. You’re sure that Republicans are just layering compassion camouflage over policies meant to benefit billionaires. Sure, be skeptical. But at least now there can be a debate about how to help, about what the evidence says, about whether Ryan and others act the way they speak.

The parties see each other as the root of all evil. But when they have cooperated on humanitarian efforts, real progress has been made: on AIDS, on prison rape, on the earned-income tax credit.

The sad truth is that neither party has done enough to address the shame of deep-rooted poverty in America. So let’s hope for a real contest in this area, because everybody loses — above all, America’s neediest — when most of the time one party doesn’t even bother to show up.

I’ll believe that ZEGS and the rest of the mole people give a crap about the poor when pigs fly.  Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Democratic presidential race hasn’t been getting as much attention as the Republican side. This is for the same reason that professional wrestling gets more viewers than “Book TV.” There’s something compelling about a lot of grunting and body slams.

Let’s get focused. Time to discuss how Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton differ on the issues.

You forgot to mention Martin O’Malley.

No, I didn’t.

About Clinton and Sanders. Their positions on most things are similar. They both favor universal prekindergarten and support gay marriage, reproductive rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They both want to raise the minimum wage, but Sanders is shooting for $15 while Clinton says $12. They both have ambitious plans to fight climate change. Clinton wants to see more than half a billion solar panels in operation by 2020; Sanders has called for 10 million.

Ha! Who’s the transformational thinker there, Bernie?

Well, his campaign says it meant solar roofs. The more important point is that Sanders also wants a major tax on businesses that keep using fossil fuels. As we go along here, you will note that his proposals are almost all much bolder and that practically everything on his shopping list includes new or higher taxes on somebody. Occasionally everybody, although Sanders would argue that the little people will get their money back through things like free health care and generous family leave policies.

Clinton doesn’t want to raise taxes?

Some, but mainly on the superrich. Nothing on couples making less than $250,000.

I vote the person, not the platform. Who would I like more?

You’d like them both. These are politicians. They spend their lives trying to please people. You don’t get to this level if nobody can stand being around you. Unless, of course, you’re Ted Cruz.

Do you think Sanders has so many young supporters because he’s transformational or because he wants to make college free?

That’s certainly a big applause line. This is another good way of looking at the candidates’ differences. Sanders has a sweeping plan: free tuition at public colleges and universities, period. Clinton has a similar goal, but her plan is more complicated because she wants to screen out kids whose parents could afford to pay the freight themselves.

So his is easier to understand, while she avoids the problem of having to explain in the final election why the taxpayers should be underwriting chemistry class for Donald Trump’s grandchildren.

Are you going to talk about Wall Street? Preferably briefly. Without mentioning the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Very, very basically, Bernie Sanders has a dramatic plan to regulate the big banks, tax the speculators and punish Wall Street evildoers. Clinton would argue that the banks have been pretty well taken care of by the Dodd-Frank law and that what you really need to do is focus on the hedge funds. This is so oversimplified, I’m kind of ashamed. Maybe we should go back and …

That’s plenty. Really! So Clinton isn’t in the pocket of big special interests who paid her millions of dollars to give speeches?

Many people think her Wall Street reform plan is O.K. But on a personal level, it was inexcusable of her to give those $200,000 speeches for investment bankers and the like when she knew she was going to be running for president. Not good at all.

You’d better say something positive about Hillary Clinton now or I’m going to call this quits.

She’s stupendously smart. She has a lifetime record of fighting for good causes, particularly children and women’s rights. She would almost certainly be a lot better at working with Congress than President Obama has been.

What about a President Sanders? Could he actually do any of the stuff he’s talking about?

It’s hard to imagine getting Congress to upgrade Obamacare to a single-payer system — what he describes as Medicare for all. You remember what an enormous lift it was to get any health care reform at all passed. But Sanders’s theory is that by electing him, the people will be sending a message so strong even Congress can’t ignore it.

Wow, do you think that could happen?

That’s the bottom line of the whole contest. Vote for Bernie: Send a message. Vote for Hillary: She knows how to make things work.

I would like to elect someone who can make things work while simultaneously sending a message.

Do you ever watch those house-hunting shows where people make the list of what they want in their next home, and it’s always a place in the heart of the city that’s quiet and has green space for the dog and four bedrooms so guests can come visit, for no more than $500 a month?

You’re saying I can’t have everything.

Hey, wait until I ask you to choose between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Blow and Krugman

January 25, 2016

In “Hillary Clinton Stumbles” Mr. Blow says although Bernie Sanders has electability issues, the Clinton campaign has made mistakes that give him a better chance at the nomination.  Prof. Krugman considers “Michigan’s Great Stink,” ideology and the neglect of public health.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In October, when Hillary Clinton made a spectacle of the congressional Benghazi committee during a marathon interrogation that seemed designed to make a spectacle of her, she emerged stronger than ever. Herpolls numbers surged.

That performance had come on the heels of a strong debate performancethe week before in the first Democratic presidential debate.

She had bolstered the image she wanted to project: strong, smart, capable and battle-tested.

But now, on the verge of Monday night’s Democratic town hall in Iowa — the last time the candidates will face off before the caucuses in that state — and with Bernie Sanders’s poll numbers climbing not only in Iowa, but also in New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign seems increasingly desperate and reckless.

I noticed the turn in the last debate as Clinton seemed to me to go too far in her attacks on Sanders, while simultaneously painting herself into a box that will be very hard to escape.

She wrapped herself in President Obama’s legacy so tightly that she could hardly breathe, and then built an image of herself as a practical politician who could build on Obama’s accomplishments by taking small steps and negotiating tough deals.

But practicality and incrementalism, as reasonable as that strategy and persona may be, are simply no match for what animates the Sanders campaign — a kind of kinetic, even if sometimes overblown, idealism. His is a passionate exposition of liberalism — and yes, democratic socialism — in its most positive light.

But, let me be clear and unequivocal: I find his earnest philosophic positions to be clear and often laudable, but also somewhat quixotic. I think that he is promising far more than even he knows he can deliver, and the electability question is still a real one, even though polls now show him matching up well against possible Republican opponents.

For instance, Sanders’s plan for universal health care is an admirable ambition of any true liberal, but as presented seems to me unworkable, and the prospect of getting it passed through this Congress or any Congress that vaguely resembles it is nil. Congress has voted to repeal Obamacare, which is far shy of Sanders’s proposal, more than 60 times. Suggesting that it would pass something even more expansive is mere fantasy.

When Sanders is pressed on how he will accomplish his ambitious goals, he often responds with the nebulous answer that it will require a “political revolution,” which seems to mean energizing and engaging an unprecedented number of new voters who would not only ensure his election but flip control of the Senate and possibly the House.

Interesting, but also unlikely. Go talk to all the Blue Dog Democrats who lost their seats in the wake of Obamacare passage. Go talk to all the voters who are being disenfranchised by new voter suppression laws. Go talk to all the poor people who live in states where conservative voters ensure Republican leadership, and therefore prevent Medicaid from being expanded in their states.

There are political realities that exist in America that can be changed sometimes, and often are, but that are not often subject to sea changes.

Furthermore, Sanders likes to tout that he doesn’t have a “super PAC” and doesn’t want one. That is a principled position. But the Republican candidate will have the support of many super PACs, awash in hundreds of millions of dollars in dark money, and the Republican nominee himself might even be a billionaire. They are going to beat Sanders like he is a nail with the “socialist” label and his proposal on new taxation. Middle of the spectrum Middle America is likely to be very susceptible to this negative messaging.

But instead of Clinton finding a way to express that her plans are more tangible than Sanders’s, and her chances in the general election are stronger than his, she and her campaign have made some incredulous inferences about Sanders’s honor.

The swipes at him as being soft on the gun industry as some way of cozying up to it, or of being anti-Obama because he wanted Obama to be stronger in pursuing a liberal agenda, or that he wants to scrap Obamacare, simply do not connect.

Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her.

There are a tremendous number of echoes starting to be heard between the way Clinton ran against Obama, and the way she is running against Sanders.

Clinton has what political insiders call the “firewall”: Overwhelming support among black and Hispanic voters in Southern and some Western states. But a win by Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire could supply a boost of momentum that could greatly erode the Clinton firewall.

If Clinton can’t find a positive, energetic message to project, and soon, she is going to be swept away by Sanders.

Some part of Sanders’s proposals and even his vision for this country may indeed be a fairy tale. But in the 2008 race, Bill Clinton criticized Obamaand his position on the Iraq war as a “fairy tale.” Well fairy tales sometimes come true, particularly when Hillary Clinton stumbles.

Blow, Kristof and Collins

January 21, 2016

In “The Poisoning of Flint’s Water” Mr. Blow says it is hard to imagine such a thing happening in a city that didn’t have this particular demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.  In “America the Unfair?” Mr. Kristof says we need to leverage populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. He says it’s been done before.  In “Palin, Trump, Cruz and Corn” Ms. Collins says Sarah surfaces and Ted gets trounced for the wrong reason.  Well, whatever trounces him is good, doncha know…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In November, I was the guest speaker at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan’s annual dinner. Before I spoke, the group called to the stage a longtime investigative journalist who had done tremendous work bringing the Flint water crisis to light. His name was Curt Guyette. He, in turn, recognized the scientists, doctors, politician, lawyers and activists who had helped in that quest.

I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard about this crisis before that night, but the details they laid out hit me with the force of a train.

Local officials made the decision to switch the city’s water supply in 2014 from its longtime source supplied by the city of Detroit, which contained corrosion-control chemicals, to the Flint River, which did not contain those chemicals. It was billed as a cost-saving measure for a city facing financial distress.

But the Flint River water corroded the city’s pipes and leached poisonous metals into the city’s water supply, including lead, which is particularly dangerous if consumed by children or pregnant women.

Some of the water tested so high for lead contamination that it was “more than twice the amount at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies water as hazardous waste,” according to Guyette.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Lead exposure can affect nearly every system in the body. Because lead exposure often occurs with no obvious symptoms, it frequently goes unrecognized.”

The residents of Flint consumed this poisonous water, knowing that something was wrong because of its changing colors and smells, but mostly unaware of just how dangerous it was.

An entire American city exposed to poisoned water. How could this be?

It is hard to imagine this happening in a city that didn’t have Flint’s demographic profile — mostly black and disproportionately poor.

And, it got worse: Officials apparently kept assuring residents that things were under control, even though many residents knew intuitively that they were not.

As The New York Times reported in October:

“All along, through months of complaints from residents of this city about the peculiar colors and odors they said were coming from their faucets, the overriding message from the authorities here was that the water would be just fine.”

And not only did the city not respond quickly, according to Guyette’s reporting, it artificially suppressed finding on lead levels, and when the federal Environmental Protection Agency offered to help remedythe problem, city officials apparently declined the help.

The damage done by this misguided decision, and the callous apathy on the part of officials to quickly admit their error and work expeditiously to correct it, displays a staggering level of ineptitude, if not criminal negligence.

Lawsuits are sure to spring up by the thousand. It’s not clear whether anyone will be held criminally responsible, but it is highly likely that civil suits for damages could be successful, so much so that they could bring the state to its knees.

The possible damage seems almost incalculable and one can imagine that a jury would find that the monetary damages should match.

I have not stopped thinking about Flint since November, and now the story has gained new urgency as it has become a cause celebre and entered the national political debate.

Bernie Sanders has called for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, saying in a statement:

“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Governor Snyder should resign.”

Hillary Clinton has condemned the Snyder administration, called for the federal government to “step up” in the crisis and dispatched two top campaign aides to meet with Flint’s mayor.

(On Tuesday that mayor, Karen Weaver, endorsed Clinton for president.)

The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Sunday of the situation that the city should have tape around it “because Flint is a crime scene.”

Celebrities, including P. Diddy and Magic Johnson, have expressed their outrage, and some, like Cher and Meek Mill, have pledged large donations of water to the city.

The Flint native Michael Moore, in an online petition, demanded that President Obama visit the city when he went to Michigan on Wednesday,writing:

“This week, you are coming to Michigan to attend the Detroit Auto Show. We implore you to come to Flint, less than an hour’s drive north of Detroit. Do not ignore this tragedy taking place every day. This may be Gov. Snyder’s Katrina, but it will become your Bush-Flying-Over-New Orleans Moment if you come to Michigan and then just fly away.”

(Obama did not go to Flint during his visit to the state, but did address it while there, and met with the mayor of Flint in Washington the day before.)

Snyder conceded Monday that the Flint water crisis wasindeed his Katrina and on Tuesday, during a State of the State address, apologized for the crisis.

But Moore tweeted a response Tuesday that might well capture the outrage many feel about this story:

“On Sat, I called Flint ‘Governor Snyder’s Katrina.’ Today he said he accepts that comparison. Except Bush didn’t cause the hurricane. #Jail

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders don’t agree on much. Nor do the Black Lives Matter movement, the Occupy Wall Street protests and the armed ranchers who seized public lands in Oregon. But in the insurgent presidential campaigns and in social activism across the spectrum, a common thread is people angry at the way this country is no longer working for many ordinary citizens.

And they’re right: The system is often fundamentally unfair, and ordinary voices are often unheard.

It’s easy (and appropriate!) to roll one’s eyes at Trump, for a demagogic tycoon is not the natural leader of a revolution of the disenfranchised. But the populist frustration is understandable. One of the most remarkable political science studies in recent years upended everything rosy we learned in civics classes.

Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern University found that in policy-making, views of ordinary citizens essentially don’t matter. They examined 1,779 policy issues and found that attitudes of wealthy people and of business groups mattered a great deal to the final outcome — but that preferences of average citizens were almost irrelevant.

“In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule,” they concluded. “Majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.”

One reason is that our political system is increasingly driven by money: Tycoons can’t quite buy politicians, but they can lease them. Elected officials are hamsters on a wheel, always desperately raising money for the next election. And the donors who matter most are a small group; just 158 families and the companies they control donated almost half the money for the early stages of the presidential campaign.

That in turn is why the tax code is full of loopholes that benefit the wealthy. This is why you get accelerated depreciation for buying a private plane. It’s why the wealthiest 400 American taxpayers (all with income of more than $100 million) ended up paying an average federal tax rate of less than 23 percent for 2013, and less than 17 percent the year before.

Conversely, it’s why the mostly black children in Flint, Mich., have been poisoned by lead coming out of the tap: As Hillary Clinton noted Sunday in the Democratic debate, this wouldn’t have happened in an affluent white suburb. Lead poisoning permanently impairs brain development, but it’s not confined to Flint. Some 535,000 children across the country suffer lead poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those kids never have a chance — not just because of the lead, but also because they don’t matter to the American political system. American politicians are too busy chasing campaign donors to help them.

There are solutions — more about that in a moment — but a starting point is to recognize that this public mood of impotence and unfairness is rooted in something real. Median wages have stalled or dropped. Mortality rates for young white adults are rising, partly because so many self-medicate with painkillers or heroin. Blacks have been protected from this phenomenon by another unfairness: Studies indicate that doctors discriminate against black patients and are less likely to prescribe them painkillers.

America’s political and economic inequalities feed each other. The richest 1 percent in the U.S. now own substantially more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Solutions are complex, imperfect and uncertain, but the biggest problem is not a lack of tools but a lack of will. A basic step to equalize opportunity would be to invest in education for disadvantaged children as the civil rights issue of the 21st century.

“I think any candidate seriously aiming to reduce inequality would have a mild increase in tax on the rich to fund higher school spending,” says Nicholas Bloom, a Stanford expert on inequality. I would add that investments in education should begin early, with high-quality prekindergarten for at-risk children.

We also need political solutions to repair our democracy so that ordinary citizens count along with the affluent. “There is no magic bullet that will set things right, but meaningful campaign finance reform must be at the center of a reform agenda,” Gilens says. “States and cities are leading the way. Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have had statewide, publicly funded ‘clean election’ systems for some time with varying degrees of success.”

One step toward transparency: President Obama could require federal contractors to disclose political contributions.

Right now, the bitterness at America’s grass roots is often channeled in ways that are divisive and destructive: at immigrants, say, or at Muslims. The challenge will be to leverage the populist frustration into constructive postelection policy. But it has been done before.

“Reforms were adopted in the first Gilded Age, an era similarly plagued by government dysfunction, political corruption and enormous economic inequality,” Gilens notes. “Perhaps they will be again.” For the sake of our country, let’s work for an encore.

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Sarah Palin is really falling apart.

“Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, O.K.?” Palin told the crowd at her big announcement endorsing Donald Trump.

The man himself was standing next to her, with a half-smile. Hard to tell if it was self-satisfaction or the look someone might get when trapped at a dinner party next to a stranger who’s describing how she met President William Henry Harrison in a past life.

Even though Palin seemed to have a script, it didn’t help. “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah? Where in the private sector you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing,” she continued.

Got that? It’s been quite a while since the world outside the Tea Party has checked in on Sarah Palin, but I think it’s safe to say there hasn’t been a whole lot of personal growth. The absolute high point of her rather long, rambling address was the moment when she complained that the United States pays for Middle Eastern “squirmishes.”

The next day, Palin spoke at another Trump rally, where she appeared to blame Barack Obama’s veterans policy for her son’s domestic violence arrest this week. Republicans seem currently O.K. with blaming the president for anything, including sunspots. But even some of them must have found it a little creepy.

Still, Trump has been having a super week. Palin wasn’t even the high point. That came when Iowa’s six-term Republican governor, Terry Branstad, urged voters to reject Trump’s main competitor, Ted Cruz.

“Ted Cruz is ahead right now. But what we’re doing is, we’re trying to do is educate the people of Iowa. He is the biggest opponent of renewable fuels,” Branstad told a press conference.

“Renewable fuels” is code for the government ethanol program, which has been stupendously profitable for the Iowa corn industry. Cruz has broken one of the great traditions of the Iowa caucus (First in the Nation! Forever!), which is that every major presidential candidate falls down to worship Big Corn.

Iowa’s many, many corn farmers have always gotten lots of government aid — the Environmental Working Group says that between 1995 and 2012, they received more than $15 billion in subsidies. On top of that, we’ve got the ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be mixed with biofuel, usually corn. This causes corn prices to soar and creates environmental problems due to overplanting. “A triple-layer subsidy cake,” said Scott Faber of the E.W.G.

All this is the opposite of fiscal conservatism, but generally, politicians find a way to evolve on the subject when they get to Iowa. This year Cruz has hung tough. Perhaps it’s because he’s close to Big Oil, which wants the gas tanks for itself. But whatever the reason, he’s paying the price. A pro-ethanol group, which happens to be led by the governor’s son, ran a mess of ads against him. Cruz seemed to waver, then stiffened. Out charged Branstad with his warning. A popular governor’s antipathy could be a big deal.

Let’s take a minute to feel sympathy for Ted Cruz. Poor guy.

O.K., time’s up.

“Dear Friend,” wrote Cruz to his mailing list on Wednesday. “I literally have no time to explain. … The longest-serving Republican career politician in the nation and his politically connected family is coordinating with establishment politicians and super PACs to lead an 11th-hour attack against us and sink our campaign.”

Ted said he is responding with “everything I have.” But that would be much easier if he had another $265,000 in donations posthaste.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is supremely happy. “The governor just made a very big statement that was appreciated by many,” he told a gathering of — yes! — the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association before going on to announce that he was not only in favor of requiring corn in every tankful of gas, but he wanted to see the proportion go higher.

“As president I will encourage Congress to be cautious in attempting to … change any part of the R.F.S.,” he continued. That would be renewable fuel standard. Trump was reading this speech, which he claimed he had written himself. It was deep into ethanol-speak. All of you who think he’s still just a free spirit flying around the country saying whatever the hell comes into his mind, be aware. This is now an increasingly careful politician.

Cruz, he said, without actually mentioning any names, is a tool of the oil companies. “He goes wherever the votes are,” Trump said contemptuously.

None of that here, God knows.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

January 18, 2016

In “G.O.P. and the Apocalypse” Mr. Blow says the Republican candidates are sending such a negative message that it may backfire in the general election.  In “Iran Opens for Business” Mr. Cohen says Netanyahu and Rubio are wrong, and that toughness is no more than empty aggression when it will not admit to misjudgment.  Prof. Krugman has a question in “Health Reform Realities:”  Should progressives re-litigate Obamacare? He says there are many reasons to think that it just wouldn’t work.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week I suffered through another dust-dry Republican debate in which a slimmed-down roster of seven candidates leveled many of the same attacks and regurgitated many of the same staid pitches.

There were a few flashes of life that caught my attention or made me chuckle:

Ted Cruz debuting some entertaining lines of attack to rebuff the questions the real estate developer keeps raising about whether Cruz is indeed a “natural born citizen” and able to become president. The real estate developer managed a surprisingly maudlin moment when he rebuked, quite successfully, Cruz for his outrageous us-against-them comments about “New York values.” Jeb Bush calling the perpetual squabbling between Marco Rubio and Cruz a “back and forth between two senators — backbench senators.”

But what struck me most about the debate was just how unremittingly bleak the tone of it was.

These Republican candidates have countered Obama’s “ Hope” and “Change” message from 2008 and “Forward” message from 2012 with “War” and “Ruin” and “Backwards.”

There seemed to be a competition to see who could describe the state of the country.

Understandably, a candidate has to identify a problem that they plan to fix. That’s simply the nature of politics. If there is no problem to fix, there is no need of a fixer.

Democrats are identifying problems as well.

Bernie Sanders has identified Wall Street greed, the “casino capitalist process” and income inequality as the enemy, and himself as the only one in the race with the credibility and philosophical track record to bring them to heel.

Hillary Clinton has identified Republicans and the prospects of their dismantling the progress made under the Obama presidency as her enemy, and she has positioned herself as the only logical heir to the current president, to protect his legacy and build on it.

But even as the Democratic candidates point to very real concerns, they seem to my mind also able to offer a vision of hopefulness and idealism.

Republicans are missing the second shoe. They are describing a coming apocalypse from which we must be saved, not a future that is full of light. Indeed, it is as if they must inflate some mythical beast so that they will appear more valiant in their quest to slay it. Everything is about arms and war and the Islamic State, guns and taxes and joblessness. It is about taking the country back to a different posture, a different period.

I can’t imagine that this will work in the end. While fear and anger can be effective electoral motivators, presidents are often elected on messages that carry a positive vision.

That positive vision is achingly absent from the Republican field. At least Ben Carson, with his meandering, absent-minded answer, came across as positive — not by his policies so much as by his soft-spoken, easy to laugh, slow to attack demeanor. But even that, during the most recent debate, didn’t work. Carson came off as more jester than that cogent candidate. When asked a question early in the debate, Carson responded with awkward self-deprecation: “Well, I’m very happy to get a question this early on. I was going to ask you to wake me up when that time came.” Oh Ben, they always look like they are waking you.

Most of the rest of the evening was consumed by the negative.

The real estate developer: “Our country’s a mess.” Later: “I’m angry because our country is a mess.”

Bush: “We have the mess in Washington, D.C.” Later, on Hillary Clinton: “She wants to continue down the path of Iran, Benghazi, the Russian reset, Dodd-Frank, all the things that have — that have gone wrong in this country. She would be a national security mess.”

Chris Christie: “There’s a number of things that the next president is going to have to do to clean up this mess.”

But, mess wasn’t always a strong enough word, so they sometimes amped it up.

Rubio: “She wouldn’t just be a disaster. Hillary Clinton is disqualified from being commander in chief of the United States.”

The real estate developer: “Our military is a disaster.”

Bush: “Hillary Clinton would be a national security disaster.” Later: “Everybody’s record’s going to be scrutinized, and at the end of the day we need to unite behind the winner so we can defeat Hillary Clinton, because she is a disaster.”

It isn’t completely clear to me the relationship between the candidates’ rhetoric and the prevailing views of Republican voters: Are the candidates merely a reflection of the disaffected base, are the candidates helping to create the disaffection, or do they all exist in a national echo chamber amplifying each other?

But whatever the origins or the source of the expansion, this strikes me as a losing strategy. At some point, someone among the Republican candidates will have to offer a positive message to reach the middle of the voter spectrum and the crossover voters that one needs to win the presidency. If not, this field is destined to be remembered as a group of hyperbolic doomsayers rather than as successful presidential politicians.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Some people cannot stand good news. It troubles their fixed view of the world. These would include Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who were cast into a huff by the confirmed reversal of Iran’s nuclear program and its release of several Americans, including Jason Rezaian of The Washington Post.

Try a smile, guys. Toughness is no more than empty aggression when it will not admit to misjudgment. Diplomacy delivers.

Rezaian is coming home after a year and a half of groundless imprisonment. An American pastor and a former Marine will be reunited with their families. Iran had more than 19,000 first-generation centrifuges installed; that number is now 6,104. Its advanced centrifuges have been slashed from over 1,000 to zero. Its low-enriched uranium stockpile has been cut to 660 pounds from over 19,000.

The plutonium route to a bomb has been cut off. Iran is subject to what President Obama called “the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.” The country’s “break-out” time — the period needed to rush for a bomb — has been extended to a year from two to three months.

The trauma-induced Iranian-American psychosis, ongoing since the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979, has been overcome. Two tireless diplomats, Secretary of State John Kerry and the University of Denver-educated Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, speak when needed. American sailors who strayed into Iranian waters are released within 24 hours. A financial dispute outstanding since 1981 is resolved. The world’s 18th-largest economy is about to rejoin the world at a time when the sinking global economy sure could use a jolt. The nuclear deal, even in these early days, is not hermetic. It opens doors.

To all of which Rubio responds that Obama has put “a price on the head of every American abroad” when he should have used “crippling sanctions” (oh, please, not that crippled phrase again). Netanyahu actually claims that if it were not for Israel “leading the way” on sanctions, “Iran would have had a nuclear weapon long ago.” Iran, he baritones, “has not relinquished its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons.”

That may be — or not. We can all go guessing in the Iranian bazaar. Nothing comes cheaper than an Iran pontificator.

What is clear is that Iran is much further from a nuclear weapon because of the courageous diplomacy of Obama and Kerry and Zarif and the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who all confronted hostile constituencies at home to get the deal done.

For Iran, the arrival of “implementation day” means the lifting of all nuclear-related sanctions and access to about $100 billion in frozen assets. A big nation is open for business again, back in the global financial system and world oil market.

Netanyahu, Rubio and their ilk believe Iran will use the windfall to do its worst. That cannot be discounted. The United States and Iran remain hostile on most fronts, from Syria to Israel. Revolutionary Guard hard-liners have not drunk the Kool-Aid at the Rouhani-Zarif school of diplomacy. Obama’s imposition of mild new sanctions for banned missile tests was a reminder of differences.

But if the developments of recent days demonstrate one thing, it is that Iran, 37 years from its revolution, is delicately poised between hard-liners and reformers, neither of whom can dictate the country’s course, each of whom need the other for now. Imminent parliamentary elections may indicate which camp is ascendant. Whatever happens, it is hard to argue that greater contact with the world will be bad for the large, modernizing, highly educated younger generation. Iran is a pro-American country with a tired anti-American refrain. It has a successful diaspora community ready to help revive the country — if allowed to do so.

The breakthrough with Iran is Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement, one that may have a transformative effect on the region. The next decade will show to what degree. That potential is what has American allies from Saudi Arabia to Israel so perturbed. They preferred the status quo.

Of course it could all unravel. Predicting Doomsday is easy. But with hard work, I believe the chances are greater that American-Iranian diplomatic relations will be restored within five years.

The Economist had a good summary of why Iran’s reintegration is so important and consequential. It noted that “the prospects in a post-deal Iran are vast.” The country is not “an oil-soaked rentier state,” like some of its neighbors, but a “regional power with an industrial economy” — if a grossly mismanaged one. Its population of 80 million is well-educated, its oil and gas reserves enormous. The country’s pent-up need for foreign investment may amount to $1 trillion. Iran, it concluded, is “preparing for takeoff.”

Try saying the word Iran without saying the word “nuclear.” It’s time. In fact, it’s past time, even if good news is too much for some.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Health reform is the signature achievement of the Obama presidency. It was the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare was established in the 1960s. It more or less achieves a goal — access to health insurance for all Americans — that progressives have been trying to reach for three generations. And it is already producing dramatic results, with the percentage of uninsured Americans falling to record lows.

Obamacare is, however, what engineers would call a kludge: a somewhat awkward, clumsy device with lots of moving parts. This makes it more expensive than it should be, and will probably always cause a significant number of people to fall through the cracks.

The question for progressives — a question that is now central to the Democratic primary — is whether these failings mean that they should re-litigate their own biggest political success in almost half a century, and try for something better.

My answer, as you might guess, is that they shouldn’t, that they should seek incremental change on health care (Bring back the public option!) and focus their main efforts on other issues — that is, that Bernie Sanders is wrong about this and Hillary Clinton is right. But the main point is that we should think clearly about why health reform looks the way it does.

If we could start from scratch, many, perhaps most, health economists would recommend single-payer, a Medicare-type program covering everyone. But single-payer wasn’t a politically feasible goal in America, for three big reasons that aren’t going away.

First, like it or not, incumbent players have a lot of power. Private insurers played a major part in killing health reform in the early 1990s, so this time around reformers went for a system that preserved their role and gave them plenty of new business.

Second, single-payer would require a lot of additional tax revenue — and we would be talking about taxes on the middle class, not just the wealthy. It’s true that higher taxes would be offset by a sharp reduction or even elimination of private insurance premiums, but it would be difficult to make that case to the broad public, especially given the chorus of misinformation you know would dominate the airwaves.

Finally, and I suspect most important, switching to single-payer would impose a lot of disruption on tens of millions of families who currently have good coverage through their employers. You might say that they would end up just as well off, and it might well be true for most people — although not those with especially good policies. But getting voters to believe that would be a very steep climb.

What this means, as the health policy expert Harold Pollack points out, is that a simple, straightforward single-payer system just isn’t going to happen. Even if you imagine a political earthquake that eliminated the power of the insurance industry and objections to higher taxes, you’d still have to protect the interests of workers with better-than-average coverage, so that in practice single-payer, American style, would be almost as kludgy as Obamacare.

Which brings me to the Affordable Care Act, which was designed to bypass these obstacles. It was careful to preserve and even enlarge the role of private insurers. Its measures to cover the uninsured rely on a combination of regulation and subsidies, rather than simply on an expansion of government programs, so that the on-budget cost is limited — and can, in fact, be covered without raising middle-class taxes. Perhaps most crucially, it leaves employer-based insurance intact, so that the great majority of Americans have experienced no disruption, in fact no change in their health-care experience.

Even so, achieving this reform was a close-run thing: Democrats barely got it through during the brief period when they controlled Congress. Is there any realistic prospect that a drastic overhaul could be enacted any time soon — say, in the next eight years? No.

You might say that it’s still worth trying. But politics, like life, involves trade-offs.

There are many items on the progressive agenda, ranging from an effective climate change policy, to making college affordable for all, to restoring some of the lost bargaining power of workers. Making progress on any of these items is going to be a hard slog, even if Democrats hold the White House and, less likely, retake the Senate. Indeed, room for maneuver will be limited even if a post-Trump Republican Party moves away from the scorched-earth opposition it offered President Obama.

So progressives must set some priorities. And it’s really hard to see, given this picture, why it makes any sense to spend political capital on a quixotic attempt at a do-over, not of a political failure, but of health reform — their biggest victory in many years.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

January 11, 2016

In “Focus on Illegal Guns” Mr. Blow says regulations such as safety features and registration are needed to make a dent in gun violence.  Mr. Cohen, in “The Limits of American Realism,” says excise the idea of the extension of liberty from U.S. foreign policy and something very meager remains.  In “The Obama Boom” Prof. Krugman says dire warnings from Republicans about the effect of President Obama’s policies on employment have simply not come true.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Late Thursday night a madman approached a police cruiser in Philadelphia and fired at least 11 times at the officer in the vehicle, striking him three times in the left arm.

Even with those wounds, the officer was able to get out, chase the shooter and return fire, striking him in the buttocks.

The shooter would later tell the police, according to Capt. James Clark, commander of the Police Department’s homicide division: “I follow Allah and I pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. That is the reason why I did what I did.”

This is a disturbing reminder of the influence of ISIS on individuals disposed to acts of terror, and how hard it is to identify all of them before they commit a violent act.

But the episode also highlighted something else that does not get enough discussion: the use of stolen guns in crimes.

You see, the gun used in the Philadelphia attack had been stolen, from a police officer no less, in 2013.

Our current discussion about increasing gun regulations often centers on efforts that would mostly affect people who legally buy firearms. Many of them make sense, in theory, but the truth is that they would not be likely to have a huge impact on criminal gun violence, because many of those criminals obtain their weapons illegally.

So, when the gun lobby and gun owners make this case, we must admit that they have a point.

In 2013, Samuel Bieler of the Urban Institute wrote a fascinating article about where criminals get their guns, and his findings were somewhat shocking.

Corrupt dealers supply some of the guns. According to Bieler:

“Some researchers have suggested that gun retailers divert a relatively low volume of weapons, while others have found them to be a major source.”

Some come from gangs and family and friends. Specifically, “Research has put their role as a supply source at 30 to 40 percent of crime guns, but little is known about the composition of this nebulous ‘friends and family’ category.”

And research by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives suggests that “just one percent of licensed firearms dealers sold more than half of the guns recovered in crimes, and that most gun dealers rarely have one of their guns show up in crime.”

But what I found most shocking was the number of guns that are stolen each year: as many as half a million. Each year! And many of those stolen guns are then used in other crimes.

In a 2003 book, “The Challenge of Crime,” published by Harvard University Press, authors quoted researchers who found the following:

“They learned that 32 percent of the felons had acquired their most recent weapon through their own theft; an additional 14 percent knew that their friend, family, or street source had stolen the weapon before conveying it; and an additional 24 percent thought that the weapon probably had been stolen by his source. At least 46 percent, then, and possibly as many as 70 percent of felons’ most recently owned firearms had been stolen either by the offender himself or by the source from whom he acquired the weapon. In addition, 47 percent of the respondents quizzed as to whether they had ever stolen a firearm during a crime admitted to so doing and 86 percent of the felons who admitted prior stealing of firearms reported multiple thefts.”

Rather than focusing on all guns, the vast, vast majority of which are owned by responsible people and are never used in the commission of a crime, we have to focus on keeping guns out of the hands of this relatively small number of criminals.

People, including the president in his speech and town hall meeting last week, like to compare increasing gun regulations to the way cars are regulated. But they didn’t simply get safer due to regulations. They also got safer because the market desired more safety, as well as anti-theft features. Many of the innovations, carmakers came up with on their own. The gun market doesn’t behave that way.

Furthermore, cars are required to be licensed, registered, insured and periodically inspected. Also, you can’t hide a car the way you can hide a gun. Cars are operated on public roads.

If we want to truly put a dent in gun violence, we must take some incredibly unpopular steps in some pockets. Safety features — including smart guns that can only be fired by the owner — are going to have to be added to the market. That will be hard to sell because no one wants a gun to fail to because it lacks a charge or due to a technology glitch. One of benefits of traditional guns is that, technologically, they are simple and ancient. There are no batteries or chips.

We are also likely to have to register guns and require insurance. This would be almost impossible, given the gun lobby’s and many gun owners’ current stance and the paranoid fears of confiscation, a fear some liberals feed.

Making guns safer and keeping more of them out of the hands of criminals and in the hands of responsible owners can be done, but not as long as many responsible owners are also unreasonable ones.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Is realism really, really what America wants as the cornerstone of its foreign policy?

Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University, has an eloquent ode to realism in Foreign Policy magazine. He argues that, with realism as the bedrock of its approach to the world over the past quarter century, the United States would have fared far better. Realists, he reminds us, “have a generally pessimistic view of international affairs and are wary of efforts to remake the world according to some ideological blueprint.”

Pessimism is a useful source of prudence in both international and personal affairs. Walt’s piece makes several reasonable points. But he omits the major European conflict of the period under consideration — the wars of Yugoslavia’s destruction, in which some 140,000 people were killed and millions displaced.

Realists had a field day with that carnage, beginning with former Secretary of State James Baker’s early assessment that, “We don’t have a dog in that fight.” This view was echoed by various self-serving assessments from the Clinton White House that justified inaction through the portrayal of the Balkans as the locus of millennial feuds neither comprehensible nor resolvable.

True, discerning a vital American national interest in places with names like Omarska was not obvious, even if the wars upset the European peace America had committed to maintaining since 1945. The realpolitik case for intervention was flimsy. Sarajevo was not going to break America, less even than Raqqa today.

The moral case was, however, overwhelming, beginning with the Serbian use in 1992 of concentration camps to kill Bosnian Muslim men deemed threatening, and expel Muslim women and children. These methods culminated at Srebrenica in 1995 with the Serbian slaughter of about 8,000 male inhabitants. In the three-year interim, while realists rationalized restraint, Serbian shelling of Sarajevo blew up European women and children on a whim. Only when President Clinton changed his mind and NATO began concerted bombing was a path opened to ending the war.

I covered that conflict and its resolution. For my baby-boomer generation, spared Europe’s repetitive bloodshed by American military and strategic resolve, it was a pivotal experience. After that, no hymn to realism pure and simple could ever be persuasive. Walt calls me “a liberal internationalist;” I’ll take that as an honorable badge.

He describes the expansion eastward of NATO after the end of the Cold War as “a textbook combination of both hubris and bad geopolitics” that needlessly poisoned relations with Russia. This argument is in fact a textbook example of the cynicism and smallness inherent in realism.

Guaranteeing security as the basis for a liberal order in nations from Poland to Estonia emerging from the trauma of the Soviet Imperium amounts to a major American strategic achievement. (Baker was instrumental in it, proof he was more than a Walt-school realist.) Ask any Pole, Lithuanian or Romanian if they think America erred.

Realists tend to dismiss human suffering; it’s just the way of the world. Hundreds of millions of people in Europe were ushered from totalitarian misery to democratic decency under the protection of the United States and its allies. A debt incurred at Yalta was repaid. European peace and security were extended, an American interest. There is little doubt that President Vladimir Putin would today have overrun at least one of the Baltic countries, absent their NATO membership.

Putin has created havoc precisely in the no man’s lands — Georgia and Ukraine — rather than in the NATO lands. Russia’s interest, post-1990, was in the dismemberment of the European-American bond, most potently expressed in NATO. That was the real problem.

The United States, almost alone among nations, is also an idea. Excise the notion of the global extension of liberty and its guarantees from American policy and something very meager remains. Putin is a fierce, opportunistic realist. But Americans — Donald Trump notwithstanding — do not want that dish on their tables.

They especially do not want it after the Syrian debacle. Walt argues that realists would have dissuaded President Obama from saying President Bashar al-Assad “must go” and setting a “red line.” But the problem was not that uttering these words was unrealistic. It was that failing to follow up on them was feckless.

Syria has illustrated the limits of White House realism. Realism has dictated nonintervention as hundreds of thousands were killed, millions displaced, and Islamic State emerged. Realism has been behind acquiescence to Assad’s barrel-bomb brutality. If Iraq illustrated disastrous American pursuit of an “ideological blueprint,” Syria has demonstrated a disastrous vacuum of American ideas.

Realism is an essential starting point for American foreign policy. It was absent on Iraq: The result was mayhem that, as Walt rightly says, cost America several trillion dollars. Realism brought the Iran nuclear accord, a signal achievement. More of it might help on Israel-Palestine.

But this is more a time to acknowledge the limits of realism — as a means to deal with the evil of ISIS, the debacle of Syria, or the desperate European refugee crisis — than to cry out for more, or suggest that it is underrepresented in American discourse.

More saber rattling and dick swinging from someone with no dog in the fight he wants to start.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Do you remember the “Bush boom”? Probably not. Anyway, the administration of George W. Bush began its tenure with a recession, followed by an extended “jobless recovery.” By the summer of 2003, however, the economy began adding jobs again. The pace of job creation wasn’t anything special by historical standards, but conservatives insisted that the job gains after that trough represented a huge triumph, a vindication of the Bush tax cuts.

So what should we say about the Obama job record? Private-sector employment — the relevant number, as I’ll explain in a minute — hit its low point in February 2010. Since then we’ve gained 14 million jobs, a figure that startled even me, roughly double the number of jobs added during the supposed Bush boom before it turned into the Great Recession. If that was a boom, this expansion, capped by last month’s really good report, outbooms it by a wide margin.

Does President Obama deserve credit for these gains? No. In general, presidents and their policies matter much less for the economy’s performance than most people imagine. Times of crisis are an exception, and the Obama stimulus plan enacted in 2009 made a big positive difference. But that stimulus faded out fast after 2010, and has very little to do with the economy’s current situation.

The point, however, is that politicians and pundits, especially on the right, constantly insist that presidential policies matter a lot. And Mr. Obama, in particular, has been attacked at every stage of his presidency for policies that his critics allege are “job-killing” — the former House speaker, John Boehner, once used the phrase seven times in less than 14 minutes. So the fact that the Obama job record is as good as it is tells you something about the validity of those attacks.

What did Mr. Obama do that was supposed to kill jobs? Quite a lot, actually. He signed the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform, which critics claimed would crush employment by starving businesses of capital. Heraised taxes on high incomes, especially at the very top, where average tax rates rose by about six and a half percentage points after 2012, a step that critics claimed would destroy incentives. And he enacted a health reform that went into full effect in 2014, amid claims that it would have catastrophic effects on employment.

Yet none of the dire predicted consequences of these policies have materialized. It’s not just that overall job creation in the private sector — which was what Mr. Obama was supposedly killing — has been strong. More detailed examinations of labor markets also show no evidence of predicted ill effects. For example, there’s no evidence that Obamacare led to a shift from full-time to part-time work, and no evidence that the expansion of Medicaid led to large reductions in labor supply.

So what do we learn from this impressive failure to fail? That the conservative economic orthodoxy dominating the Republican Party is very, very wrong.

In a way, that should have been obvious. For conservative orthodoxy has a curiously inconsistent view of the abilities and motivations of corporations and wealthy individuals — I mean, job creators.

On one side, this elite is presumed to be a bunch of economic superheroes, able to deliver universal prosperity by summoning the magic of the marketplace. On the other side, they’re depicted as incredibly sensitive flowers who wilt in the face of adversity — raise their taxes a bit, subject them to a few regulations, or for that matter hurt their feelings in a speech or two, and they’ll stop creating jobs and go sulk in their tents, or more likely their mansions.

It’s a doctrine that doesn’t make much sense, but it conveys a clear message that, whaddya know, turns out to be very convenient for the elite: namely, that injustice is a law of nature, that we’d better not do anything to make our society less unequal or protect ordinary families from financial risks. Because if we do, the usual suspects insist, we’ll be severely punished by the invisible hand, which will collapse the economy.

Economists could and did argue that history proves this doctrine wrong. After all, America achieved rapid, indeed unprecedented, income growth in the 1950s and 1960s, despite top tax rates beyond the wildest dreams of modern progressives. For that matter, there are countries like Denmark that combine high taxes and generous social programs with very good employment performance.

But for those who don’t know much about either history or the world outside America, the Obama economy offers a powerful lesson in the here and now. From a conservative point of view, Mr. Obama did everything wrong, afflicting the comfortable (slightly) and comforting the afflicted (a lot), and nothing bad happened. We can, it turns out, make our society better after all.

Blow and Collins

December 24, 2015

In “The Top Social Justice Stories of 2015” Mr. Blow asked readers for the the events they thought mattered most this year. Climate change, voting rights and Guantanamo made their lists.  Ms. Collins gives us “The Donald Trump Days of Christmas” and says that for starters we should say our “Happy holidays” while they’re still allowed.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In a recent column, Charles M. Blow asked Henry Louis Gates Jr., Michelle Alexander and Dan Savage what they thought the biggest social justice stories were this year. Their wide-ranging responses included Black Lives Matter, the refugees crisis and minimum wage increases.

In addition to those topics, readers suggested a variety of stories that resonated for them. Here are some highlights, edited for length.

Paris and Climate Change
In my opinion, from a long term perspective, global climate change is the greatest threat to social justice. The damage to coastal areas, the change in weather patterns, the creation of new mass migrations as humans try to escape the effects of climate change – all will represent social justice tragedies. What is worse is the new “meme” circulating among the wealthy that they and their children and their grandchildren will be able to escape the impact of climate change due to their wealth. And so the story of the Paris Accords is a social justice story: the Accords are both a triumph and a failure. A triumph that all nations have pledged to reduce carbon emissions, a tragedy because it is too little, and it is too late.

Brad, Arizona

Water in Flint, Mich.
Do not forget the lead contaminated drinking water that was inflicted on the population of Flint, Michigan. Clean drinking water is a basic human right for all people. The deliberate indifference to the health of the residents, especially the children of Flint, Michigan and what I suspect is an attempted cover-up by governmental officials was an affront to common decency.

No need to wonder what would’ve happened had the underlying water problem occurred in more affluent and politically well-connected municipalities.

Somehow, I do not think that this affair is over.

Mark Dobias, Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

Family Homelessness in Cities
This doesn’t make the same headlines exactly, but the persistence of family homelessness (and in many cities, homelessness in general) and effects of gentrification in larger cities is a major social justice issue. Younger, more affluent people are moving into traditionally Black neighborhoods, slumlords are selling properties for a profit and leave people with limited options. Are we going to continue to leave our fellow citizens behind, or are we ever going good to realize that a vibrant society depends on everyone, not just the privileged?

Kim, N.C.

Saudi Arabia’s Intervention in Yemen and Guantanamo Prisoners
The author did not specify in his introduction that this topic of discussion would or should be limited to what has happened in the United States of America. To me, the biggest social justice stories are Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, and the continuation of imprisonment without trial of 100+ human beings at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay for the 13th year.

Barbara, New York

Voting Rights
I’m surprised that no one included what is, by far, the most important social justice issue this year, and in the past several years. No right is more fundamental to fair and equal treatment than the right to vote. Civil rights leaders began with voting rights because little could be achieved without the right to vote. Voter id laws have gone viral in the states, and they disenfranchise the poor disproportionately. It disturbs me that intelligent people give precedence to the Confederate flag, a narrowly applicable change in minimum wages, and the resignation of the Mizzou President. It’s the little people who have lost the vote. Social justice is about the little people, not grand gestures.

Michjas, Phoenix

Gay Marriage Enactment
Let’s not forget that justice triumphed in Kentucky where Kim Davis, a local town clerk, acting on the basis of claimed, deeply-held religious beliefs, refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. A federal court enforced the US Constitution and the rule of law and sent Ms. Davis to jail. The loud and clear message is that no one has the right to impose his/her religious convictions on others, in derogation of the law. Shame on those self-interested politicians who supported her and her flagrant disregard of the rule of law.

Gomez Rd, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Phone Cameras and Police Arrests
The Sandra Bland murder was an example of profound injustice, and it was all caught on video, a shameful example of our system in action. The video captures the injustice that happens in every city in America. It’s important because it a good example of the “caught on video” arrests that have been a sign of our times, and an important impetus for change. A category on these lists should be “phone cam, police cam arrests” for the education and insight it has given many Americans into a broken system.

PE, Seattle, Wash.

Confederate Monuments Renaming
The push to rename confederate monuments as part of a national effort to deconstruct our collective history of the post-reconstruction era that pushed a pro-confederate/segregationist narrative and continued the white supremacy establishment. This new meme has coincided with efforts to broaden the historical dialogue about slavery, the war and what followed including memorials to those who suffered under the yoke of slavery.

Syltherapy, Pennsylvania

Justin Trudeau’s Election
Justin Trudeau’s victory over Stephen Harper. Harper, despicably, chose to elevate islamophobia as a tenet of his campaign, and it backfired horribly. Additionally, upon entering office, he immediately diversified his close staff and undid many rules implemented by Harper that reduced civil rights for all those with Canada. The Canadian people voted out bigotry, and the country is better for it.

Chris, Michigan

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Happy holidays! I say this with some trepidation, because Donald Trump has vowed that when he is president, “We’re all going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” That was a while ago, during his war on the Starbucks coffee cup design. So very much water has run under the Trumpian bridge since then.

But I’m still trying to figure out exactly how a universal “Merry Christmas” mission would be accomplished. Would there be a “holiday” gag order? Seasonal salutation checks at the border?

This is supposed to be a down period for presidential campaigning, since most of the population is focused on celebrating you-know-what with friends and families. But Trump has given us such a not-normal year that people will be drinking eggnog by the fire and discussing the proper use of the word “schlonged.”

The happiest holiday parties should be with Team Clinton, which clearly believes that going to war with Trump is good for her cause, and that having Trump as the Republican nominee would be even better.

Their current fight began when Hillary, in the last Democratic debate, said ISIS was “going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.” There is actually no specific evidence this is happening, although it certainly seems probable.

For the sake of perfect accuracy, Clinton should have said that ISIS “is bound to start going.” We would dwell on imperfect verb choice longer if PolitiFact hadn’t just announced that out of 77 Trump statements it looked into, 76 percent were rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

The Trump campaign is a new phenomenon. He mainly flies around on his planes, speaks at big rallies and calls into radio and TV news talk shows. Trump brags about his lack of interest in fund-raising, but he doesn’t seem to be spending much of his own money, either. This is a guy whose great keys to fortune were inheriting real estate and putting his name on things that other people often paid for. Maybe he figures he can become president just by branding it.

After the Hillary diatribes, Trump told a howling audience this week that he hates journalists, and he appeared to be mulling the idea of killing some of them. To be fair, he did conclude by announcing he wouldn’t do that.

For which I presume we’re supposed to be grateful.

Once, long ago, I was the subject of Trumpian ire — I had referred to him as a “thousandaire” — and his response was to send me a copy of the column with a couple of insults written over my picture and a note in which he misspelled the word “too.” So really, he’s not all that threatening. As long as he remains a private citizen, the worst he can do is to throw up an ugly apartment building or hotel in your neighborhood.

But the president thing is no longer a joke. You may have noticed that the competition is starting to fall away. This week Senator Lindsey Graham threw in the towel, or, in polite political-speak, “suspended his candidacy.” Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul and John Kasich seem likely to be consigned to the loser’s section when the Republicans have their next debate.

That brings us down to six people, one of which is Ben Carson, who’s fading fast. Also Jeb Bush, who was last seen wandering around New Hampshire, reminding people how many times he’s been there. At this point in the political cycle, if you’re a desperate candidate you go somewhere cold and try to get the population to fall in love with you just because they’ve had so many opportunities to shake your trembling, frostbitten hand.

Ted Cruz is doing something along that line in Iowa, where he’s ahead. But he’s also moved into a clear second place in the polls, terrifying the party establishment and many Republican billionaire donors, who regard Cruz as an obnoxious self-promoting egomaniac. There is nothing the oligarch class hates more than egomaniacs.

The big donors appear to be particularly fond of Senator Marco Rubio, the attractive, 44-year-old Floridian who has done very well in the debates. The other candidates find Rubio’s popularity irritating, particularly since he hasn’t been campaigning all that hard. Or doing anything else, it appears. Trump called Rubio a sweaty underachiever “with no money, zero.” This is, if nothing else, a campaign where the insults are meeting a new norm. Thanks almost entirely to the front-runner.

Blow and Krugman

December 21, 2015

In “The Year’s Biggest Social Justice Stories” Mr. Blow says three observers list events, decisions and controversies of significance in 2015.  In “The Donald and the Decider” Prof. Krugman addresses the history of G.O.P. dumbing-down, which began long before Trump.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have always been interested in social justice, and it has always been an integral part of this column. But from the time, nearly three years ago, that I first spoke with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, I knew that the tenor of the column was forever altered. I am still haunted by the ache in her voice on that first phone call, by the first time I interviewed her in person and saw how the grief draped over her body, and bent it.

Since then, there have been too many stories like Trayvon’s, and this year the pace seemed to quicken. I covered so much pain that I nearly lost myself in it. Maybe I’m getting too close. So, to round up this year in social justice I asked other people who operate in that area to give me their top stories. Here are the results.

HENRY LOUIS GATES JR., Harvard professor and scholar of African-American literature:

1. Massacre at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C.; the victims’ families’ willingness to forgive the killer; President Obama’s eulogy a few days later; and the consequential vote by the South Carolina Legislature to remove the Confederate flag from the State House as part of a large national debate over the flag as a symbol of heritage versus hate.

2. The death of Sandra Bland in Texas and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement to curb police violence, including the launch of the political phase of the struggle with Campaign Zero.

3. Campus unrest, principally at the University of Missouri and the stand the football team took in refusing to play, a stand that led to the resignation of the college president. This is unprecedented in my experience, I have to say! I call this “The Revolt of The Talented Tenth.”

4. The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, to guarantee the right to same-sex marriage under the Constitution.

5. The immigration debate and the Syrian refugee crisis, especially as they have intersected with the Republican primary race.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER, author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness”:

1. The uprisings in Baltimore proved that the Black Lives Matter movement would not be contained to a handful of cities — nor would it be limited to situations in which unarmed black men were killed by white police officers in cities run by whites.

2. Fast-food strikes widen into social justice movement. As wealth inequality reached a new zenith and austerity programs were debated around the world, what may have been the largest ever demonstrations for fair wages in the United States occurred and the protests went global.

3. Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage. The triumph of an extraordinary human rights movement in the United States with ripple effects around the world.

4. Hunger strike and protests force resignation of president at Mizzou. The resignation of the president stunned the nation, focused public attention on old Jim Crow racism still prevalent on college campuses, and inspired national solidarity protests and debate about free speech and racial climate on college campuses.

5. Trump and Bernie. A billionaire demagogue who proudly and openly stokes racial and religious fears, divisions and animosities surges in popularity within the Republican Party as he threatens to shred the Constitution, deport millions of immigrants and close our borders to Muslims. Meanwhile, a Democratic socialist attracts record crowds as he argues for a political revolution against the oligarchs, full employment, fair wages and universal health care.

DAN SAVAGE, author, columnist and co-founder of the “It Gets Better” project:

1. The Black Lives Matter movement. Democratic presidential candidates are responding with solid policy proposals, not platitudes, and some bad cops — homicidally bad cops — may actually face justice, all thanks to a new generation of activists, black Twitter, and cellphone video. But there’s still a long way to go.

2. The fight for the $15 minimum wage. Thousands of fast-food workers revive the labor movement by taking the streets to demand a fairer wage — and a bigger share of the profits their labor generates for giant corporations.

3. Obergefell v. Hodges. The Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the United States v. Windsor — which overturned the odious Defense of Marriage Act — set the stage for the court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which found that the Constitution protected the right of same-sex couples to marry. A one-two punch that secured the right to marry for all in the United States.

4. Caitlyn Jenner. At first it appeared that Jenner’s coming out as a trans woman would be both reality-showy and tabloid-y. But while Jenner herself has been “problematic,” as the kids on Twitter say, her surprisingly informative and sensitively produced reality show, I Am Cait, transcended both its genesis and its network, helping to educate millions of Americans on trans issues.

5. The Republican nomination contest. Donald Trump’s vicious attacks on immigrants, Carly Fiorina and Mike Huckabee’s lethal lies about Planned Parenthood, Chris Christie’s cowardly pants-crapping about Syrian toddlers, Marco Rubio’s promise to force women to give birth to their rapists’ babies, every single thing that comes out of Ben Carson’s mouth — the collective effort of activists, journalists, fact checkers, and pundits to counter the demagoguery, lies and delusions of this field of G.O.P. candidates.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush inpolls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Mr. Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

Let’s talk first about the legacy of He Who Must Not Be Named.

I don’t know how many readers remember the 2000 election, but during the campaign Republicans tried — largely successfully — to make the election about likability, not policy. George W. Bush was supposed to get your vote because he was someone you’d enjoy having a beer with, unlike that stiff, boring guy Al Gore with all his facts and figures.

And when Mr. Gore tried to talk about policy differences, Mr. Bush responded not on the substance but by mocking his opponent’s “fuzzy math” — a phrase gleefully picked up by his supporters. The press corps played right along with this deliberate dumbing-down: Mr. Gore was deemed to have lost debates, not because he was wrong, but because he was, reporters declared, snooty and superior, unlike the affably dishonest W.

Then came 9/11, and the affable guy was repackaged as a war leader. But the repackaging was never framed in terms of substantive arguments over foreign policy. Instead, Mr. Bush and his handlers sold swagger. He was the man you could trust to keep us safe because he talked tough and dressed up as a fighter pilot. He proudly declared that he was the “decider” — and that he made his decisions based on his “gut.”

The subtext was that real leaders don’t waste time on hard thinking, that listening to experts is a sign of weakness, that attitude is all you need. And while Mr. Bush’s debacles in Iraq and New Orleans eventually ended America’s faith in his personal gut, the elevation of attitude over analysis only tightened its grip on his party, an evolution highlighted when John McCain, who once upon a time had a reputation for policy independence, chose the eminently unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate.

So Donald Trump as a political phenomenon is very much in a line of succession that runs from W. through Mrs. Palin, and in many ways he’s entirely representative of the Republican mainstream. For example, were you shocked when Mr. Trump revealed his admiration for Vladimir Putin? He was only articulating a feeling that was already widespread in his party.

Meanwhile, what do the establishment candidates have to offer as an alternative? On policy substance, not much. Remember, back when he was the presumed front-runner, Jeb Bush assembled a team of foreign-policy “experts,” people who had academic credentials and chairs at right-wing think tanks. But the team was dominated by neoconservative hard-liners, people committed, despite past failures, to the belief that shock and awe solve all problems.

In other words, Mr. Bush wasn’t articulating a notably different policy than what we’re now hearing from Trump et al; all he offered was belligerence with a thin veneer of respectability. Marco Rubio, who has succeeded him as the establishment favorite, is much the same, with a few added evasions. Why should anyone be surprised to see this posturing, er, trumped by the unapologetic belligerence offered by nonestablishment candidates?

In case you’re wondering, nothing like this process has happened on the Democratic side. When Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate, say, financial regulation, it’s a real discussion, with both candidates evidently well informed about the issues. American political discourse as a whole hasn’t been dumbed down, just its conservative wing.

Going back to Republicans, does this mean that Mr. Trump will actually be the nominee? I have no idea. But it’s important to realize that he isn’t someone who suddenly intruded into Republican politics from an alternative universe. He, or someone like him, is where the party has been headed for a long time.

And now they seem to be taking to the fainting couch, clutching their pearls, and moaning…  Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers