Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

May 26, 2016

In “Violence Is Never the Answer” Mr. Blow says it’s easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but you don’t want to strengthen your enemies and weaken your cause.  Mr. Kristof has “Sore, Happy Feet on the Pacific Crest Trail” and says a backpacking trip provides both an escape from life’s distractions and an annual bonding experience for father and daughter.  Ms. Collins unleashes some “Memorial Day Weekend Ranting” and says she has  met the enemy, and it is the airlines.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

As I watched violence erupt on television among anti-Donald Trump protesters in Albuquerque, on Tuesday, my heart sank. This outbreak came on the heels of the chaotic scene at the state Democratic convention in Nevada and death threats against the state party chairwoman there.

I understand the frustration and the desire for change, but violence simply isn’t the way to create it. Once violence springs forth, moral authority dries up.

I understand the fear, anger and even rage that the systems that govern this country and the citizens who constitute it could allow — and even enthusiastically cheer — the ascendance of a demagogue like Trump.

It is incredibly dispiriting, because it makes one question what must lurk in the hearts of one’s neighbors. How is it that anyone could support a man who has made the assertions, both personal and political, that Trump has?

And yet, many people do support him. For many, he is giving public voice to private thought. Trump has not so much planted a sentiment as surfaced one that already existed.

How could this man become the presidential nominee of a major party? How is it that he stands an actual chance of becoming president? What does it say about us?

The answers to these questions are terrifying to contemplate, but contemplate them we must, with all their attendant anxieties, which are no doubt amplified among portions of the population who have been targets of Trump’s dangerous rhetoric.

Both Trump on the Republican side and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side have run popular campaigns that have castigated the political system as rigged and unfair.

This sentiment has had greater resonance on the left, where Sanders will almost definitely fall short of securing the nomination, than on the right, where Trump will secure it.

As the Pew Research Center found in a report published in March:

“The share of Democrats expressing a positive view of the primary process has declined 22 percentage points (from 52 percent) in February 2008. Republicans views are little different than in 2000 or 2008.”

Indeed, Trump’s supporters were the only group of supporters in which a majority viewed the nominating process favorably.

I am convinced that this vise grip is squeezing young people most, particularly liberal ones, because they already have a troubled relationship with society’s systems.

A Harvard IOP poll released this year found that while there were some marginal increases of trust among young adults in some institutions, their distrust of the federal government, Congress, Wall Street and the media was still considerable.

In addition, young people are experiencing real, unprecedented strain.

Pew reported Tuesday, under the headline “For First Time in Modern Era, Living With Parents Edges Out Other Living Arrangements for 18- to 34-Year-Olds,” that “In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.”

They attribute part of this change to partnering patterns, but another part to economic stress, particularly among young men.

As the report put it:

“Employed young men are much less likely to live at home than young men without a job, and employment among young men has fallen significantly in recent decades. The share of young men with jobs peaked around 1960 at 84 percent. In 2014, only 71 percent of 18- to 34-year-old men were employed. Similarly with earnings, young men’s wages (after adjusting for inflation) have been on a downward trajectory since 1970 and fell significantly from 2000 to 2010. As wages have fallen, the share of young men living in the home of their parent(s) has risen.”

And The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that:

“About seven in 10 seniors set to graduate this spring borrowed for their educations. Along with their diplomas, they’ll carry an average $37,172 of student debt as they enter the work force, according to a new analysis by higher-education expert Mark Kantrowitz. That breaks the record set by the 2015 class, which owed just over $35,000, on average.”

Add to that the fact that this is one of their first elections — if not the absolute first — and on the one side they have a dangerous cartoon villain, while on the other they are likely to have a candidate who has performed astonishingly poorly among young voters.

It is easy to see why young people are having a make-me-want-to-holler moment, but violence only strengthens your enemies and weakens your cause.

I understand the need to take a stand and make your voices heard, to engage in the direct democracy of protest and be a visible and vocal counterpoint to people you deem unfit and systems you deem unfair.

But here is a hard truth: There are no quick and easy fixes in this country. Everything you call broken was broken bit by bit over a long time and must be fixed the same way.

Democracy is an exercise in patience and persistence, not quick corrections.

The way we fix our systems and our politics is not only with vociferous displays in the moment, but also with vigilant crusades over a lifetime.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

Every spring or summer, in lieu of professional help, I ditch civilization for the therapy of the wilderness. I’ve just been backpacking with my 18-year-old daughter on the Pacific Crest Trail in California, abandoning our material world for an alternative reality in which the aim is to possess as little as possible — because if you have it, you lug it.

Our lives were downsized to 10 pounds of possessions each, not counting food and water. We carried backpacks, sleeping bags, jackets, hats, a plastic groundsheet, a tarp in case of rain, a water filter and a tiny roll of duct tape for when things break.

Few problems in life cannot be solved with duct tape.

O.K., I know I’m supposed to use my column to pontificate about Donald Trump and global crises. But as summer beckons, let me commend such wilderness escapes to all of you, with your loved ones, precisely to find a brief refuge from the pressures of the world.

This isn’t for everybody; astonishingly, some folks prefer beaches and clean sheets. But for me at least, a crazy jaunt in the outdoors is the perfect antidote to the absurdity of modern life.

In the 21st century, we often find ourselves spinning on the hamster wheel, nervously jockeying for status with our peers — Is my barbecue bigger than my neighbor’s? Is my car flashier? — even as we’re too busy to barbecue anything. We’re like dogs chasing after our tails.

That’s why I find it so cathartic to run away from home. My parents took me backpacking beginning when I was about 7, and my wife and I took our three children on overnight hikes as soon as they could toddle.

Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but when my daughter was 4, I took her on an overnight trip on Oregon’s Eagle Creek Trail, carrying her most of the first day on my shoulders, on top of my backpack. The next morning, I bribed her: If she would walk by herself all 13 miles back to the car, I would buy her a spectacular ice cream in the nearest town.

So we set off for the car. At every rest stop, we conjured that ice cream and how cold it would be, and, fortified, we trundled on down the trail beside glorious waterfalls. When we reached the car, we were both proud of her heroism, and she beamed tiredly as I buckled her into her car seat.

When we arrived at an ice cream shop 20 minutes later, she was fast asleep. I couldn’t wake her.

Thus began our hiking partnership, sometimes undertaken with the whole family, sometimes just the two of us. At home we’re all busy, but on the trail we’re beyond cellphone coverage or email reach and we’re stuck with each other.

So we talk. Even as we’re disconnected, we reconnect. And on rest breaks and at night, camping under the stars, we read aloud to each other: On this trip, my daughter and I have been reading Adam Johnson’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and talking about what it means.

No self-respecting teenage girl would normally allow her dad to read to her, but out in the wilderness, it’s a bond we share.

It’s true that not everybody can get time off, the cost of equipment can add up and it can be a hassle to get to and from a trail. (When I’ve tried hitchhiking out, drivers see a bedraggled, unshaven hobo and speed up!). Still, costs are modest: While car campgrounds often charge, backpacking in the great outdoors is almost always free. And day after day, there is simply nowhere to spend money.

I can’t pretend it’s glamorous. We’ve been scorched by the sun and chilled by rain, hail and snow. Sure, in trail conversations we bare our innermost thoughts, but we also spend plenty of time whining about blisters, rattlesnakes and 20-mile stretches without water. We curse trail designers for PUDS, or pointless ups and downs.

And let’s be blunt: I stink. When you’re carrying everything on your back, you don’t pack any changes of clothing. We bathe our feet in creeks (hoping that anyone drinking downstream is using a water filter), and on this trip we luxuriated in the Deep Creek hot springs beside the trail. We commiserate together, and we exult together in America’s cathedral of the wild, our stunning common heritage and birthright.

My daughter and I have now hiked across Washington and Oregon and hundreds of miles of California, and eventually we’ll have limped the entire Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Nothing is as different from my daily life, nor as treasured, and that is why I suggest the wilderness to friends.

For members of my family at least, these spring and summer hikes are a reminder that what shapes us is not so much the possessions we acquire but the memories we accumulate, that when you scrape away the veneer, what gives life meaning is not the grandest barbecue or the sportiest car. It’s each other.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Summer is upon us, and we are facing important travel decisions. Such as who to blame when we get stuck in interminable airport lines.

So many options. There’s the government, but how many times can you can complain about Congress in the course of a lifetime? There’s the public — air traffic up 12 percent since 2011. But really, people, don’t blame yourself.

Let’s pick a rant that’s good for you, good for me, good for the lines in security: Make the airlines stop charging fees for checked baggage.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Plus, if you do manage to make it to your flight, these are the same people who will be announcing there’s a $3 fee if you want a snack.

The largest airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag, thus encouraging people to drag their belongings through the airport, clogging the X-ray lines and slowing the boarding process as everybody fights to cram one last rolling duffel into the overhead compartment.

The idea that travelers should be hit by an extra charge for, um, having luggage began in 2008, when the cost of fuel went through the roof. We understood the airlines’ pain, sort of. Maybe. But now fuel prices have fallen into the cellar. The airlines are taking in stupendous profits — last year nearly $26 billion after taxes, up from $2.3 billion in 2010.

Yet the baggage fees are still with us. In fact, they’ve gone up by about two-thirds. Last year, the nation’s airlines made more than $3.8 billion off what I believe it is fair to call a scam. It’s also an excellent way to make your prices look lower than they really are when people surf for the cheapest ticket, a number that never includes details like the special fees for bags, food, canceling a reservation, booking by phone, sitting in a minimally more comfortable emergency row or, in some cases, requesting a pillow.

Shouldn’t the airlines offer up the baggage fee as a token of solidarity with their miserable passengers? The idea has come up. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson asked the airlines to “consider possibly” this modest bow to air travel sanity. Two U.S. senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, wrote a letter to the airlines asking them to just drop the fees during the high-traffic summer months.

We pause now for the sound of silence and crickets chirping.

The airlines have maximized profits by making travel as miserable as possible. The Boeing Company found a way to cram 14 more seats into its largest twin-engine jetliner by reducing the size of the lavatories.Bloomberg quoted a Boeing official as reporting that “the market reaction has been good — really positive.” We presume the market in question does not involve the actual passengers.

But the industry is so powerful that it seems to be able to get away with squishing people into smaller and smaller spaces. Last month, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York offered an amendment to a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration that would have imposed a moratorium on reductions in seat size and space between rows. It failed, 54 to 42.

Nobody spoke out against the proposal, but only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted for it. We salute Susan Collins, who has been, for a number of years, virtually the entire population of the Moderate Republican Caucus.

When Schumer flies, his first move is to empty the seat pocket in front of him. “I take out the magazine and the airsickness bag so I have an extra eighth of an inch,” he said in a phone interview. It’s a matter of some passion — when the presidents of three airlines visited Schumer’s office for discussion of a totally unrelated issue, he moved the coffee table so it was an inch from their knees. “I said: ‘O.K., now you know how it feels.’”

But about the bags.

Rather than reducing the number of bags in security lines, the airlines would like the government to deal with the problem by adding more workers to screen them. And the perpetually beleaguered Transportation Security Administration is going to spend $34 million to hire more people and pay more overtime this summer. Which, it assured the public, is not really going to solve much of anything.

(Who, you may ask, pays for the security lines anyway? For the most part you the taxpayer do. Also you the passenger pay a special security fee on your tickets. Which Congress tends to grab away from the T.S.A. for use in all-purpose deficit reduction. I know, I know.)

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, which took in more than $875 million on baggage fees last year, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that bowing to the extremely modest Markey-Blumenthal request for a summer suspension of the baggage fee wouldn’t “really help alleviate a lot.” It would also, he said, require a “considerable change to the business model.”

Heaven forfend we mess with the business model.

Blow and Krugman

May 23, 2016

In “Election From Hell” Mr. Blow hears echoes of another political contest that pushed the bounds of extremism and ugliness.  Prof. Krugman, in “Remembrance of Booms Past,” makes note of Clinton I’s economic lessons for Clinton II.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Sometimes people are surprised, or even unsettled, by how sanguine I can be about the coming election. I sometimes say that it’s not that I have some magic foresight about the outcome — I don’t make predictions like that; anything could happen — but it is rather that I have been here before. One of the first elections I ever voted in had candidates who were even moreflawed and was even more of a circus. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

And there are eerie similarities that I can’t shake.

The Democrat, who had occupied the white-columned home of the executive during an earlier period of prosperity, had testified more than 15 times before grand jury investigations and had twice been tried, but never convicted, on felony charges.

The Republican, a divorcé, was a well-known racist and demagogue who tried to disavow his past and who once said his plan to deal with illegal immigration was to heavily fortify the Mexican-American border and round up and deport all illegal aliens.

As Bill Turque wrote in Newsweek at the time, the Republican was “attempting to run from his past by repackaging himself as a populist. His affable, game-show-host looks and just-folks manner have been insidiously successful in blunting the impact of a past pocked with racism, Jew-hating and revisionisms.”

Turque wrote that for thousands of “whites angry with hard times and high taxes, his is the ultimate ‘no bull’ campaign. His coded distillations of white economic and racial resentment are by now the most thoroughly decoded in American politics.”

The New York Times reported at the time that the Republican’s “evolution from a lifetime at the fringes of racial politics to a new life as an aspiring national politician is largely the result of his symbiotic relationship with broadcast journalism.” A Democratic leader complained about the media’s role in the Republican’s ascendance: “The media have made him a legitimate candidate.” The venerable Ted Koppel said at the time that television and the Republican candidate “were made for each other.”

A former newspaper editor called the Republican’s support “impenetrable,” cautioning that the Democrat depended on winning over members of his own party who had recently despised him. Some in the polling and pundit class even worried about a “hidden vote” for the Republican, which would come from a group who wouldn’t publicly say they supported him, but would vote for him on Election Day.

There were lingering questions about the sincerity of the Republican’s recently professed Christianity.

Writing about one of the Republican’s previous races, the author Tyler Bridges said that at his rallies supporters “were angry” and “they thrust their fists in the air, stomped their feet, and chanted his name over and over.” Bridges wrote that the rallies had an “us-versus-them atmosphere” in which “supporters frequently heckled reporters.”

One of the most memorable bumper stickers from the campaign was for the Democrat and read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” (Ironically, both candidates would later be convicted of crimes following F.B.I. investigations.)

The year was 1991. I was a college student in my home state of Louisiana. And the race was a gubernatorial runoff between the Democrat Edwin Edwards (who reportedly once counseled Bill Clinton on how to deal with the Gennifer Flowers scandal) and the Republican David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan (who this year endorsed Donald Trump). It was the first gubernatorial election in which I voted.

Indeed, Edwards was such a brazen, unrepentant skirt chaser that he joked to a reporter during that campaign about similarities between him and Duke: “The only thing we have in common is we’re both wizards under the sheets.”

People called it the “election from hell” or the “race from hell,” depending on the person and the conversation. Voters had to choose the lesser of two evils, the same choice Bernie Sanders suggested this weekend that a Trump vs. Clinton contest would present. Some people were nervous and scared.

I’m recalling it now because the current race is reminiscent of it and because I think the outcome and lasting legacy of the Louisiana race may be instructive. In the end, Edwards won with a coalition of blacks and affluent, “business-oriented conservatives” in a record turnout for a state gubernatorial general election, but Duke did win the majority of the white vote.

Though he didn’t win, Duke’s imprint on the state was real. As The Times reported in 2014: “Two decades later, much of his campaign has merged with the political mainstream here, and rather than a bad memory from the past, Mr. Duke remains a window into some of the murkier currents in the state’s politics, where Republicans have sought and eventually won Mr. Duke’s voters, while turning their back on him.”

Whether or not Trump loses in November to “crooked Hillary,” as he has dubbed her, he may well be an important part of the future of his party. He has given his Republican supporters permission to vocalize their anti-otherness rage, and that will not easily be undone.

As a Louisiana boy experiencing a confounding sense of déjà vu, let me assure you: There is no way to un-cook the gumbo.

Trump took the dog whistles and turned them into klaxons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

Last week Mrs. Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Mr. Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

But never mind. What I want to do right now is talk about the lessons the Clinton I boom actually holds for a potential Clinton II administration.

First of all, it really was a very impressive boom, and in a way it’s odd that Democrats don’t talk about it more. After all, Republicans constantly invoke the miracles of Saint Reagan to justify their faith in supply-side economics. Yet the Clinton-era expansion surpassed the Reagan economy in every dimension. Mr. Clinton not only presided over more job creation and faster economic growth, his time in office was also marked by something notably lacking in the Reagan era: a significant rise in the real wages of ordinary workers.

But why was the Clinton economy so good? It wasn’t because Mr. Clinton had a magic touch, although he did do a good job of responding to crises. Mostly, he had the good luck to hold office when good things were happening for reasons unrelated to politics.

Specifically, the 1990s were the decade in which American business finally figured out what to do with computers — the decade in which offices became networked, in which retailers like Wal-Mart learned to use information technology to manage inventories and coordinate with suppliers. This led to a surge in productivity, which had grown only sluggishly for the previous two decades.

The technology takeoff also helped fuel a surge in business investment, which in turn produced job creation at a pace that, by the late 1990s, brought America truly full employment. And full employment was the force behind the rising wages of the 1990s.

Oh, and yes, there was a technology bubble at the end of the decade, but that was a fairly minor part of the overall story — and because there wasn’t a big rise in private debt, the damage done when the tech bubble burst was much less than the wreckage left behind by the Bush-era housing bubble.

But back to the boom: What was Mr. Clinton’s role? Actually, it was fairly limited, since he didn’t cause the technology takeoff. On the other hand, his policies obviously didn’t get in the way of prosperity.

And it’s worth remembering that in 1993, when Mr. Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy, Republicans uniformly predicted disaster. It will “kill the recovery and put us back in a recession,” predicted Newt Gingrich. It will put the economy “in the gutter,” declared John Kasich. None of that happened, which didn’t stop the same people from making the same predictions when President Obama raised taxes in 2013 – a move followed by the best job growth since the 1990s.

One big lesson of the Clinton boom, then, is that the conclusion conservatives want you to draw from their incessant Reaganolatry — that lavishing tax cuts on the rich is the key to prosperity, and that any rise in top tax rates will bring retribution from the invisible hand — is utterly false. Mrs. Clinton is currently proposing roughly a trillion dollars in additional taxes on the top 1 percent, to pay for new programs. If she takes office, and tries to implement that policy, the usual suspects will issue the usual dire warnings, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that her agenda would hurt the economy.

The other big lesson from the Clinton I boom is that while there are many ways policy makers can and should try to raise wages, the single most important thing policy can do to help workers is aim for full employment.

Unfortunately, we can’t count on another spontaneous surge in technology-driven private investment to drive job creation. But some kinds of private investment might grow rapidly if we take long-overdue steps to address climate change.

And in any case, not all productive investment is private. We desperately need to repair and upgrade our infrastructure; meanwhile, the federal government can borrow money incredibly cheaply. So there’s an overwhelming case for a surge in public investment – and one side benefit of such a surge would be full employment, which would help produce another era of rising wages.

So, will Bill Clinton play an important role if Mrs. Clinton wins? I have no idea, and don’t much care. But it will be important to remember what went right and why on Bill’s watch.

Blow and Krugman

May 16, 2016

In “Trump’s Asymmetric Warfare” Mr. Blow says that what makes Trump difficult to counter is that his supporters refuse to understand that they are being conned.  Prof. Krugman says “It Takes a Policy” and that the U.S. stands out from other advanced countries in its shameful neglect of children.  Paul, Paul, Paul…  You should know by now that the “Right to Life” people don’t give a crap about that life once it emerges from the womb.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

It has been somewhat fascinating and sometimes fun to watch Elizabeth Warren do battle with Donald Trump in alternating salvos of tweets, but in the end I fear that this approach of trying to “beat a bully,” as Warren put it in one of her tweets, is a futile effort.

There is no way to sufficiently sully a pig or mock a clown. The effort only draws one further onto the opponent’s turf and away from one’s own principles and priorities.

There is no way to shame a man who lacks conscience or to embarrass an embarrassment. Trump is smart enough to know what he lacks — substance — and to know what he possesses in abundance — insolence.

So long as he steers clear of his own weakness and draws others in to the brier patch that is his comfort, he wins.

As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said in December, this is asymmetric warfare. Conventional forms of political fighting won’t work on this man. Truth holds little power, and the media is still enthralled by the monster it made.

He is hollow, inconsistent, dishonest and shifty… and those who support him either love him in spite of it, or even more disturbingly, because of it.

He has waffled or equivocated or backtracked on tax plans, releasing his tax returns, his proposed Muslim ban, abortion and any number of issues.

It is hard to know where the hard bottom is beneath this morass of lies and bile. He has changed the very definition of acceptability as well as the expectations of the honor of one’s words. He has exalted the art of deceit to a new political normalcy.

This has made him nearly impervious to even the cleverest takedowns, and trust me, many have tried, comparing him to everyone from P. T. Barnum to Hitler.

But none of these comparisons are likely to shift public opinion. Some people will continue to see him, rightly, as an imminent danger to this nation and the world, and others will continue to see him as a salvation from it.

You see, part of the problem here is that some people believe, improbably, that virtue can be cloaked in vice, that what he says and what he means are fundamentally different, that the former is acting as a Trojan horse for the latter. One of Trump’s greatest pros is that he has convinced his supporters, all evidence to the contrary, that they are not being conned.

We are a society in search of an instant fix to some of America’s most intractable problems. Politicians of all stripes keep lying to us and saying things are going to be O.K.; that broad prosperity is just around the corner, only requiring minor tweaks; that for some of our issues there are clear good and bad options, rather than a choice between bad and worse options.

Into this mess of stubborn realities steps a simpleton with a simple message: Make America great again. We’ll win so much that you will get tired of winning.

Some folks want to be told that we could feasibly and logistically deport millions of people and ban more than a billion, build more walls and drop more bombs, have ever-falling tax rates and ever-surging prosperity. They want to be told that the only thing standing between where we are and where we are told we could be is a facility at crafting deals and a penchant for cracking down.

This streamlined message appeals to that bit of the population that is frustrated by the problems we face and quickly tires of higher-level cerebral function. For this group of folks, Trump needn’t be detailed, just different. He doesn’t need established principles, as long as he attacks the establishment.

This part of America isn’t being artfully deceived, it is being willfully blind.

One the one hand, over Trump’s life and over this campaign he has been so wrong in so many ways that there is a danger that the sheer volume of revelations may render the hearers numb to them.

On the other, as Joe Keohane wrote in the Boston Globe in 2010:

“Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.”

Supporting Trump is a Hail Mary pass of a hail-the-demagogue assemblage. Trump’s triumph as the presumptive Republican Party nominee is not necessarily a sign of his strategic genius as much as it’s a sign of some people’s mental, psychological and spiritual deficiencies.

It’s hard to use the truth as an instrument of enlightenment on people who prefer to luxuriate in a lie.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

U.S. politicians love to pose as defenders of family values. Unfortunately, this pose is often, perhaps usually, one of remarkable hypocrisy.

And no, I’m not talking about the contrast between public posturing and personal behavior, although this contrast can be extreme. Which is more amazing: the fact that a long-serving Republican speaker of the House sexually abused teenage boys, or how little attention this revelation has received?

Instead, I’m talking about policy. Judged by what we actually do — or, more accurately, don’t do — to help small children and their parents, America is unique among advanced countries in its utter indifference to the lives of its youngest citizens.

For example, almost all advanced countries provide paid leave from work for new parents. We don’t. Our public expenditure on child care and early education, as a share of income, is near the bottom in international rankings (although if it makes you feel better, we do slightly edge out Estonia.)

In other words, if you judge us by what we do, not what we say, we place very little value on the lives of our children, unless they happen to come from affluent families. Did I mention that parents in the top fifth of U.S. households spend seven times as much on their children as parents in the bottom fifth?

But can our neglect of children be ended?

In January, both Democratic candidates declared their support for a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for newborns and other family members. And last week, while the news media was focused on Donald Trump’s imaginary friend, I mean imaginary spokesman, Hillary Clinton announced an ambitious plan to improve both the affordability and quality of U.S. child care.

This was an important announcement, even if it was drowned out by the ugliness and nonsense of a campaign that is even uglier and more nonsensical than usual. For child-care reform is the kind of medium-size, incremental, potentially politically doable — but nonetheless extremely important — initiative that could well be the centerpiece of a Clinton administration. So what’s the plan?

O.K., we don’t have all the details yet, but the outline seems pretty clear. On the affordability front, Mrs. Clinton would use subsidies and tax credits to limit family spending on child care — which can be more than a third of income — to a maximum of 10 percent. Meanwhile, there would be aid to states and communities that raise child-care workers’ pay, and a variety of other measures to help young children and their parents. All of this would still leave America less generous than many other countries, but it would be a big step toward international norms.

Is this doable? Yes. Is it desirable? Very much so.

When we talk about doing more for children, it’s important to realize that it costs money, but not all that much money. Why? Because there aren’t that many young children at any given time, and it doesn’t take a lot of spending to make a huge difference to their lives. Our threadbare system of public support for child care and early education costs 0.4 percent of the G.D.P.; France’s famously generous system costs 1.2 percent of the G.D.P. So we could move a long way up the scale with a fairly modest investment.

And it would indeed be an investment — every bit as much of an investment as spending money to repair and improve our transportation infrastructure. After all, today’s children are tomorrow’s workers and taxpayers. So it’s an incredible waste, not just for families but for the nation as a whole, that so many children’s futures are stunted because their parents don’t have the resources to take care of them as well as they should. And affordable child care would also have the immediate benefit of making it easier for parents to work productively.

Are there any reasons not to spend a bit more on children? The usual suspects will, of course, go on about the evils of big government, the sacred nature of individual choice, the wonders of free markets, and so on. But the market for child care, like the market for health care, works very badly in practice.

And when someone starts talking about choice, bear in mind that we’re talking about children, who are not in a position to choose whether they’re born into affluent households with plenty of resources or less wealthy families desperately trying to juggle work and child care.

So can we stop talking, just for a moment, about who won the news cycle or came up with the most effective insult, and talk about policy substance here?

The state of child care in America is cruel and shameful — and even more shameful because we could make things much better without radical change or huge spending. And one candidate has a reasonable, feasible plan to do something about this shame, while the other couldn’t care less.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

May 12, 2016

In “As West Virginia Goes…” Mr. Blow says if Trump has a path to the presidency, it will likely be because of the Democrats’ weakness among voters who look a lot like the voters in this state.  Mr. Kristof, in “Congress to America: Drop Dead,” says Republicans played politics two years ago with the Ebola epidemic, and now they’re stalling on the president’s funding request to fight Zika.  Ms. Collins says “Bring Hillary and Bernie Together” and that Democrats could turn his standard speech into the party’s platform.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

West Virginia turned on Hillary Clinton.

In 2008, when running for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton won every county in the state, carrying it by a whopping 41 points.

Clinton said in 2008 during her West Virginia victory speech that no Democrat had won the White House since 1916 without taking West Virginia. What she didn’t say was that they all could have won without it. The margins of victory in those races ranged from 23 to 515 electoral votes. West Virginia has five.

That is precisely what Obama did. He won the election in 2008 without winning West Virginia, and he was re-elected in 2012 without winning even a single county in the state.

The Hill reported this week that, according to a political-science professor at a West Virginia college, West Virginia voters were so “fiercely anti-Obama that they voted in large numbers in 2012 for his primary opponent, who was a jailed felon in Texas.”

This cycle, a major part of Clinton’s strategy has been to so closely align herself with President Obama that there is very little light between them. This helped her secure and retain some minority voters, but most likely distanced her from many white ones.

On Tuesday, Clinton lost every county in the state and trailed Bernie Sanders by nearly 16 points.

So what’s going on in West Virginia? First, it is one of the whitest states in the country, and the absolute whitest in the South. It is also the least educated state and one of the poorest.

As of 2014, almost 94 percent of its citizens are white, only 18.7 percent have attained a bachelor’s degree and 17.2 percent fall below the poverty threshold.

West Virginia is the only state wholly contained in Appalachia, a collection of counties that stretches from Mississippi to New York and covers portions of swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina. This region has been trending away from Democrats in recent elections. Obama won fewer than 30 of Appalachia’s 420 counties in 2012; he won 44 in 2008; John Kerry won 48 in 2004; and Al Gore won 66 counties 2000.

West Virginia is also heavily reliant on the coal industry, which is at odds with liberal clean-energy initiatives.

In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, Obama said of his proposed energy plans:

If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.

Bankruptcies aside, the Obama years saw a steep decline in coal production in the state. According to a report published by West Virginia University, “After climbing to nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, the state’s coal mine output has tumbled in each successive year to an annual total of approximately 115 million short tons in 2014 ─ or a cumulative decline of 27 percent.”

This was the right long-term clean-energy approach, but it hit a sour chord in West Virginia.

True to her Obama-emulating form, Clinton took a similar tack this cycle when she said during a CNN town hall:

I’m the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

And we’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

Now we’ve got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don’t want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

Again, smart long-term policy, but doesn’t sit well in West Virginia. Clinton recently apologized for the “misstatement,” saying, “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time.”

But the apology was too little, too late for voters in West Virginia.

West Virginia illustrates the danger that accompanies the Clinton strategy of closely aligning with President Obama and his policies: Many white voters, particularly white men, detest him. Many on the right think he went too far and many on the left don’t think he went far enough. The populist movements at both ideological extremes are to some degree anti-Obama movements.

As ABC News reported Tuesday about preliminary exit polls in the state, “the highest level of economic concern in any Democratic primary this year and greater-than-usual turnout among men, whites, political independents and critics of President Obama characterized Hillary Clinton’s challenges in the West Virginia primary.”

In 2014, Gallup reported on the depths of this problem for Democrats in general:

President Barack Obama’s job approval rating among white non-college graduates is at 27 percent so far in 2014, 14 percentage points lower than among white college graduates. This is the largest yearly gap between these two groups since Obama took office. These data underscore the magnitude of the Democratic Party’s problem with working-class whites, among whom Obama lost in the 2012 presidential election, and among whom Democratic House candidates lost in the 2014 U.S. House voting by 30 points.

These white non-college graduates are a strong base of support for Donald Trump, who exclaimed in Nevada, “I love the poorly educated.” Apparently, the feeling is mutual.

If Trump has a path to the presidency, it will most likely be because of Clinton’s — and Democrats’ — weakness among people who look an awful lot like the voters in West Virginia.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

In a moment, we’ll get to the Zika virus.

First, remember how scathing Republicans were about President Obama’s handling of Ebola in the fall of 2014? They lambasted his reluctance to ban travelers from affected nations, with Paul Broun, a House member from Georgia then, even wondering if Obama had a “purposeful” plan to use Ebola to harm America.

Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative gadfly, suggested that Obama didn’t care if Ebola devastated the United States: “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.”

A Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, suggested in a radio broadcast that Obama perhaps wanted America to suffer from Ebola because “his affiliations” are with Africa rather than with America.

Then there was Donald Trump. After a New York physician, Craig Spencer, returned from treating Ebola patients in West Africa and showed symptoms of the disease, Trump tweeted that if the doctor developed Ebola (he did), “Obama should apologize to the American people & resign!”

Trump added: “President Obama, you are a complete and total disaster, but you have a chance to do something great and important: STOP THE FLIGHTS!” That was a reference to what appeared to be the G.O.P. strategy at the time: Let Ebola destroy Africa and much of the rest of the world, but try to seal off the United States from infection.

In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola.

Meanwhile, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey forcibly confined Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from West Africa, as she passed through Newark’s airport on her way to Maine. By quarantining her in a tent though she tested negative for Ebola, he complicated initiatives to send health workers to fight the disease in Africa.

In contrast, Obama’s approach was spectacularly successful. With crucial support from Britain and France, and heroic efforts by groups like Doctors Without Borders and Samaritan’s Purse, Obama deployed troops to West Africa and was able to pretty much extinguish the virus there, averting a global humanitarian and economic catastrophe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had calculated that without an intervention there might be 1.4 million cases of Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone by January 2015. From there it could have catapulted around the world, killing millions, entering the United States, devastating the global economy and becoming impossible to eradicate in some places.

That might have happened if someone like Trump or Christie had been in charge. It’s tragic that 11,300 West Africans died from Ebola, but the toll would have been incomparably higher — in Africa and in America — if not for Obama’s actions.

Hey, Mr. Trump, do you still think that President Obama should resign for his handling of Ebola?

All of that is worth reviewing because congressional Republicans are now again trying to block a sensible effort to address a public health crisis, this time a Zika virus outbreak that is steadily moving to the continental U.S., bringing with it calamitous birth defects.

In February, Obama urgently requested more than $1.8 billion to address Zika, and Congress since then has done nothing but talk. Republicans have protested that the administration doesn’t need the money, that they have questions that haven’t been answered or that the request is vague. These objections are absurd.

Even Senator Marco Rubio laid into his fellow Republicans a few weeks ago, saying: “The money is going to be spent. And the question is, Do we do it now before this has become a crisis, or do we wait for it to become a crisis?”

Rubio is right. It’s always more cost-effective and lifesaving to tackle an epidemic early.

“I’m very worried, especially for our U.S. Gulf Coast states,” said Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, a tropical diseases expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “I cannot understand why a member of Congress from a Gulf Coast state cannot see this train approaching. It’s like refusing emergency preparedness funds for an approaching hurricane.”

We don’t know how badly Zika will hit the U.S. But, the first American has just died of it, and federal health professionals are debating whether to counsel women in Zika areas to avoid pregnancy — and to me, that sounds serious.

The larger mistake is that budget cutters have systematically cut public health budgets that address Zika, Ebola and other ailments. The best bargain in government may be public health, and Republicans have slashed funding for it while Democrats have shrugged.

“Special funds for public health preparedness have been cut by more than 30 percent over the last decade and hospital preparedness by more than half,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener of Columbia University and its National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “All of this leaves the country far more vulnerable than people realize to threats like a Zika outbreak — or whatever else the future has in store.”

He added, “We will pay a steep price for this particular shortsightedness.”

And now we get to Ms. Collins:

Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

“It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

C) Why can’t we all just get along?

Personally, I think that last one is possible. Although it would probably be a good idea to avoid saying a Clinton nomination could be a “disaster simply to protect the status quo,” as Sanders’s campaign manager did in an email on Wednesday.

In an ideal world the Democrats would nominate a presidential candidate who’s got an inspiring vision of change and the competence to run the country from Day 1. This person is not going to be on the ballot this year. So let Hillary Clinton have the nomination and give Bernie Sanders the party platform.

He deserves a role. Sanders has spent the last year speaking about narrowing the gulf between the rich and the bottom 99 percent, fighting climate change and keeping special interests out of government. He’s inspired millions. It’s pretty much always the same speech, but he’s the one who can bring the music.

(Question: Will the Republicans have a fight about their platform? Nah — Donald Trump will let his opponents put in anything they want. Look, the man has convention entertainment to plan. Given the option of choosing the party position on health care or the dance numbers, you know which way he’s going to go.)

The Democrats could just make the Sanders speech into a platform, then join hands and march into the future. There actually aren’t a lot of areas of disagreement. Clinton thinks his call for free public college tuition is … well, let’s not say dumb. Dumb is not going to get you a united convention. Let’s just say too much of a good thing. But she does want free community college tuition. Did you know that? She announced it on the very first official stop of her campaign. Since then not, um, frequently. Feel free to remind her.

They both believe in universal health care coverage. Sanders wants “Medicare for all.” Clinton’s campaign says she does, too, in theory, but just doesn’t believe anything like that could get through Congress. This week she proposed a new option for 50-somethings that The Times’s Alan Rappeport and Margot Sanger-Katz called “Medicare for more.”

And you know, if Clinton could actually deliver on those two promises, it would be stupendous. This is an excellent example of the Democratic bottom line: On many, many issues, her platform is what the Sanders platform would look like if it actually got through the congressional wringer.

On other matters, the Democrats’ current policy divisions are just about doubting Hillary Clinton’s intentions. Sanders wants to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, which bars commercial banks from going into the investment banking business. Clinton says she can crack down on Wall Street better with more recent legislation. Sanders followers don’t believe she means it.

I say, be impressed that there’s a party full of young voters for whom “Glass-Steagall” is a big applause line. You can’t not want to encourage that. Put Glass-Steagall in the platform. Even if Clinton is right, all you’d have is duplication of effort, and it would be an excellent gesture of solidarity.

Finally, there’s the influence of big-money donors on American politics. In theory, Sanders and Clinton are pretty much in the same place. But in practice, he’s built his entire campaign around the concept of throwing out special interest money, while Clinton’s barely provided lip service.

“One of the four pillars of her campaign was going to be democracy issues,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21. “Well, the pillars haven’t been around too much.”

Wertheimer had his heart broken by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who both promised to make campaign finance a top priority, then didn’t. Hillary Clinton, he thinks, ought to promise something more specific that she could implement right away. “Set up a task force in the White House whose job it is to pursue this reform. Of top staff people,” he suggested.

Or a blue-ribbon committee featuring Bernie Sanders. Who would certainly never let her hear the end of it if she failed to deliver. Put that in the platform and smoke it.

Blow and Krugman

May 9, 2016

In “G.O.P. Has Only Itself to Blame” Mr. Blow says Donald Trump’s conquest of the Republican Party comes at a big price for its future.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Making of an Ignoramus” and says Trump’s bad ideas are largely a bombastic version of what many in his party have been saying.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican Party is trapped between a rock and huckster.

Now that all of their other presidential candidates have dropped out of the race, Donald Trump is the last demagogue standing. He is their presumptive nominee. Their party belongs to him. It’s a YUUGE … disaster.

Now the few remaining serious folks in that party have to make a decision: support this man who, if current trends in polling hold, is likely to lose the general election by an overwhelming margin (and likely do even more damage to the party brand and hurt the chances of down-ballot candidates), or they can … wait, they don’t really have another option other than to sit out this cycle and pretend that their party hasn’t gone stark raving mad.

The House speaker, Paul Ryan, told CNN last week that he is “just not ready” to support Trump.

Jeb Bush posted on Facebook, “I will not vote for Donald Trump.” His brother and father are both refusing to endorse Trump.

Mitt Romney, the Republicans’ last presidential nominee, has also said that he won’t support Trump.

Lindsey Graham said last week that he “cannot in good conscience” support Trump.

Many prominent Republicans have also indicated that they will skip the party’s convention.

CNN reported last week that Erick Erickson, a conservative blogger, radio host and leader of the #NeverTrump movement, has “had a number of conversations about laying the groundwork for a third-party candidate to oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in the general election.”

“If the delegates ratify this madness in Cleveland, many of us will look elsewhere for a credible candidate to oppose both Trump and Clinton,” Erickson told CNN.

If you didn’t already believe that whoever wins the Democratic nomination would be a huge favorite to win in November, a third-party conservative candidate would seal the deal.

But please, shed not a single tear for this conservative calamity. They brought it on themselves. They allowed their unhinged contempt for — and in some cases, even hatred of — Obama drive them insane, into the arms of a walking absurdity who catered to their rage.

Now, that man — simultaneously an unbelievable joke and an undeniable threat — is on the verge of ripping the party, and indeed the country, apart (even as he insists that he’s “very much a unifier”).

It’s not that Trump’s chances of winning in November are particularly good. According to The Upshot, “If today’s general election polling holds true, Hillary Clinton will easily defeat Donald Trump.”

The Los Angeles Times put it in even starker terms: “To reach the 270 electoral votes it takes, the businessman and reality TV star will have to carry a number of states that have not voted Republican in well over a generation, while prevailing in several battlegrounds where, polls show, he starts behind.”

No, the threat is not that he will necessarily win, but that he will further poison our national dialogue in the six months between now and Election Day, and the off chance that maybe, just maybe, a September surprise could turn his sliver of a chance into an actual victory.

This what-if, worst-case possibility that America might do the unimaginable — and elect Trump to our highest office — is severely unsettling.

Even the president, speaking of Trump at a press conference on Friday, had to impress upon everyone how serious it is that the country is flirting with disaster: “I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment. This is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States. ”

Sure, there are some prominent Republicans tucking their tails, biting their tongues and swallowing hard as they begrudgingly announce their support for the presumptive Republican nominee.

But they no doubt see what the Pew Research Center reported last month: “Unfavorable opinions of the G.O.P. are now as high as at any point since 1992.” They know that Trump will send that number sinking, as if tied to a brick.

Trump has used a toxic mix of bullying and bluster, xenophobia and nationalism, misogyny and racism, to appeal to the darker nature of the Republican Party and secure his place as the unlikeliest presidential nominee in recent American history.

That paved his path, coupled with what Jim Clifton, chairman and C.E.O. at Gallup, called earlier this year “a staggering” three-fourths of Americans believing “corruption is ‘widespread’ in the U.S. government.” As Clifton emphasized: “Not incompetence, but corruption.”

There is real pain in America, and where you sit along the ideological spectrum dictates whom you see as your Satan and whom as your savior. It appears that enough Republican voters have opted for the combo package, for which the party is likely to pay a hefty price.

Congratulations, Republicans, you’ve hitched yourselves to the madman-driven carriage, and it’s heading for the cliff.

And it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of racists, homophobes and morons.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channeling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.

Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — hard to believe, but there it is — finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.

The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement. One does not casually suggest throwing away America’s carefully cultivated reputation as the world’s most scrupulous debtor — a reputation that dates all the way back to Alexander Hamilton.

The Trump solution would, among other things, deprive the world economy of its most crucial safe asset, U.S. debt, at a time when safe assets are already in short supply.

Of course, we can be sure that Mr. Trump knows none of this, and nobody in his entourage is likely to tell him. But before we simply ridicule him — or, actually, at the same time that we’re ridiculing him — let’s ask where his bad ideas really come from.

First of all, Mr. Trump obviously believes that America could easily find itself facing a debt crisis. But why? After all, investors, who are willing to lend to America at incredibly low interest rates, are evidently not worried by our debt. And there’s good reason for their calmness: federal interest payments are only 1.3 percent of G.D.P., or 6 percent of total outlays.

These numbers mean both that the burden of the debt is fairly small and that even complete repudiation of that debt would have only a minor impact on the government’s cash flow.

So why is Mr. Trump even talking about this subject? Well, one possible answer is that lots of supposedly serious people have been hyping the alleged threat posed by federal debt for years. For example, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, has warned repeatedly about a “looming debt crisis.” Indeed, until not long ago the whole Beltway elite seemed to be in the grip of BowlesSimpsonism, with its assertion that debt was the greatest threat facing the nation.

A lot of this debt hysteria was really about trying to bully us into cutting Social Security and Medicare, which is why so many self-proclaimed fiscal hawks were also eager to cut taxes on the rich. But Mr. Trump apparently wasn’t in on that particular con, and takes the phony debt scare seriously. Sad!

Still, even if he misunderstands the fiscal situation, how can he imagine that it would be O.K. for America to default? One answer is that he’s extrapolating from his own business career, in which he has done very well by running up debts, then walking away from them.

But it’s also true that much of the Republican Party shares his insouciance about default. Remember, the party’s congressional wing deliberately set about extracting concessions from President Obama, using the threat of gratuitous default via a refusal to raise the debt ceiling.

And quite a few Republican lawmakers defended that strategy of extortion by arguing that default wouldn’t be that bad, that even with its access to funds cut off the U.S. government could “prioritize” payments, and that the financial disruption would be no big deal.

Given that history, it’s not too hard to understand why candidate Trump thinks not paying debts in full makes sense.

The important thing to realize, then, is that when Mr. Trump talks nonsense, he’s usually just offering a bombastic version of a position that’s widespread in his party. In fact, it’s remarkable how many ridiculous Trumpisms were previously espoused by Mitt Romney in 2012, from his claim that the true unemployment rate vastly exceeds official figures to his claim that he can bring prosperity by starting a trade war with China.

None of this should be taken as an excuse for Mr. Trump. He really is frighteningly uninformed; worse, he doesn’t appear to know what he doesn’t know. The point, instead, is that his blithe lack of knowledge largely follows from the know-nothing attitudes of the party he now leads.

Oh, and just for the record: No, it’s not the same on the other side of the aisle. You may dislike Hillary Clinton, you may disagree sharply with her policies, but she and the people around her do know their facts. Nobody has a monopoly on wisdom, but in this election, one party has largely cornered the market in raw ignorance.

Blow and Collins

May 5, 2016

Mr. Blow, in “Black Men, Violence and ‘Fierce Urgency’,” says yes, personal choice plays a role, but people make choices within an environmental context — which is affected by state and federal policy.  In “The Donald Trump New Normal” Ms. Collins considers that maybe there will be a reality TV contest to pick a running mate.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Birmingham, Alabama:

On a picture-perfect Wednesday morning, mayors, city leaders and advocates huddled in unremarkable hotel conference rooms in here, to discuss something disturbing and seemingly intractable: violence among — and the violent deaths of — young black boys and men.

It was the third annual convening of Cities United, the group President Obama praised in the 2014 announcement of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative as “a bipartisan group of mayors” who have made improving the lives and outcomes of young black men a “priority in communities across the country.”

And they continue to do so, this year meeting under the mantra “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” a phrase made famous decades ago by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And yet the ferocity and urgency for this cause among the broader public and the news media remain elusive.

In the wake of the incredible level of attention garnered last year by citizens who were rightly outraged by state violence — often at the hands of law enforcement, directed disproportionately at black citizens — the issue of community violence receded.

When it did surface, it was often used as a cudgel against activists like those supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The message was invariably some version of: If black lives really mattered, activists would focus on black-on-black violence instead.

The implication being that there is something pathologically broken about blackness that makes black people prone to self-destruction, and that attention to anything else is a minor diversion from a larger truth.

But in fact, this argument is the diversion.

Both state violence and community violence are problems, and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One exacerbating factor of community violence is the present and historical factors that helped form the communities and created the conditions for violence.

It is not hard to explain, as many have, how every level of government, and by extension society itself, used every possible lever of power for centuries to create the conditions in black communities that now make fertile ground for violence.

This is not to say that personal choice plays no role, but rather that human beings make choices within an environmental context, which at its base level is affected by state and federal policy.

Our society treated black bodies as disposable, if not bound for eradication. Generations of educational, employment, housing, lending and criminal justice policies form the substrata roots of this problem, and they are deeper and more complex than the visible weed of community violence that is so tall and tangled.

Even urban infrastructure like highways were used as a tool to distance and destroy black neighborhoods, as Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx explained in March at the Center for American Progress. As Foxx put it, “The growing gaps between the wealthy, the poor and the middle class have been exacerbated by our transportation system,” and “Attitudes about race and the poor have been embedded in our infrastructure for far too long.”

The roads to America’s prosperity either plowed through black and poor communities or were literally designed to pass them by.

It is easy to argue that these policies took centuries to carve their scars and will likely take a long time to heal (that is, once the country truly decides to begin that healing, instead of plunging the shiv deeper into the wound).

But that is the long view. What do we do now, in the short term, about the disproportionate number of black lives caught in a vortex of violence? What do we do in the meantime? In the space between where we are and where we must arrive, how do we stop filling the cemeteries with the bodies of ever more young black men?

At the Cities United meeting, I discussed this dilemma with Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, a city recently caught up in a storm of protests over the shooting death of Jamar Clark, a young black man, by police officers who were not charged in his killing.

That case drew national attention. What drew less attention are numbers supplied to me by a senior policy aide in Mayor Hodges’s office: a 78 percent rise so far this year in gunshot wound victims, with a 153 percent rise in the Fourth Precinct alone, the precinct in which Jamar was killed.

Mayor Hodges talked passionately about addressing “universal issues” and treating violence as a “public health issue.” She advocated dealing with “upstream issues” like stable housing and trauma. But the more she spoke, the more I was reminded of the enormity of the problem we as a society have created and continue to face.

Our policies, disinvestment and avoidance have created a sort of perpetual motion machine in which violence has become increasingly difficult to stanch.

That dilemma encapsulates both the fierce urgency of now and the plodding monotony of it.

Maybe the only way to think about this is bifurcated: on the one hand, in small, doable first steps; and on the other, in grand philosophical truths. As Mayor William Bell of Birmingham stressed to me, we have to talk across differences — ideological and generational — to find the center of our collective moral authority. From that point progress, and the path to it, becomes clearer.

Possibly.

But for me, in this moment, it’s important to first find a way of accepting that we can both protest state violence and detest community violence — and not let either discussion deprive the other of oxygen.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

This morning we woke up in a nation where Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president of the United States. No “Game of Thrones” analogies. This is the real thing.

“We’re going to start winning again and we’re going to win bigly, believe me,” he said on primary night. It had been quite a day. His chief opponent held a press conference to announce that Trump was an “utterly amoral” narcissist and friend to rapists who was “proud of being a serial philanderer.” Armed with that information, Indiana voters raced off to the polls and awarded Donald a huge win.

In his victory speech, Trump spoke in the much-promised “presidential” style, and the big news is that when Donald Trump is being presidential he is incredibly boring. Also pretty incoherent:

“We have great relationships with many foreign countries, but they have to respect us and they have to understand where we’re coming from. And you know it is a two-way street. And the two-way street means that we’re going down one side and they’re coming up the other.”

Or:

“Now, we can keep things going and we’re going to keep things going very nicely. But we owe, soon, $21 trillion. … And we’re just not in the position that we were in 30 years ago, 40 years ago, 50 years ago, when a lot of these things took place and began taking place.”

His family assumed the same vacant-eyed aspect we’ve seen so many times when Chris Christie is in the background. This is not going to work over the long run. Trump can’t deal with an unresponsive audience. His entire platform is constructed around big applause lines. Last year when he announced his candidacy, the crowd roared when he brought up Mexican rapists. If they’d gone crazy when he mentioned leaf removal, his campaign would have been all about mulching.

Meanwhile, the Republican Trump challengers packed up and went home. Farewell, John Kasich — things could have been worse. You could have been Ted Cruz, who began his week by failing to respond when Carly Fiorina fell off the stage. Who concluded his bowing-out speech by bopping his wife on the nose.

In between, he learned that Trump was connecting his father with John Kennedy’s assassination. Now, Rafael Cruz is a really terrible person, who claims gay marriage is a socialist conspiracy and suggested Barack Obama be sent “back to Kenya.” But there is nothing tying him to Lee Harvey Oswald except a picture run in The National Enquirer. It showed Oswald handing out pro-Castro literature in the company of several other unidentified people, one of whom looked a little like the elder Cruz. Except there was no evidence the two men knew each other, were ever in the same place at the same time, or … well, you know. National Enquirer.

“That was reported, and nobody talks about it,” Trump said indignantly.

People, this is the point at which I’m supposed to make you feel better by pointing to all the terrible presidential campaigns of the past. I could remind you that the first Republican presidential candidate, John Charles Frémont, was accused of being a cannibal. Or that poor Grover Cleveland was tortured by newspaper stories claiming he was “a boon companion to Buffalo harlots, a drunken, fighting, roistering roué.”

We have had a lot of crazy, scandalous charges in presidential races, some from sources even more unreliable than The National Enquirer. But not by the candidates themselves. You didn’t have James Buchanan strutting around the podium saying, “Oh yeah, I know Frémont. Tasty Bits John, we call him.” Or James Blaine taunting: “Ho, ho, ho, it’s Grover the Rover. “

Trump has a lot to do before the convention in July. He has to put the finishing touches on his financial plan — it currently includes big tax cuts, hiking military spending and paying off the national debt in eight years. Which would leave us with a budget of pretty much zero for everything else. No need to fight about shutting down the government! The government would vanish on its own.

Plus, there’s the veep selection. “I think that, you know, a lot of people are talking about certain names, and certainly those are the names that we’re thinking of,” said Trump. As only he can. Once you eliminate all the people who have already announced they’d rather be kidnapped by manatees, there’s a pretty short list. Maybe Chris Christie? Never in modern America have we had a presidential ticket composed entirely of guys who specialize in insulting people and yelling at the top of their lungs.

Maybe Ted Cruz? Personally I would really enjoy having a vice-presidential candidate who is on the record as calling the head of the ticket a “pathological liar.” And he does need cheering up.

Blow and Krugman

May 2, 2016

In “A Trump-Sanders Coalition? Nah.” Mr. Blow says there is little evidence of common interests between supporters of the senator and the businessman.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Diabetic Economy” and discusses chronic weakness in Europe and what it means.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump has gone from blaming Bernie Sanders’s supporters for disruptions at his rallies to making overtures to them — saying Sanders has been “treated terribly by the Democrats,” saying that he would harvest attacks on Hillary Clinton from Sanders’s speeches, and even urging Sanders to run as an independent.

And, to take it further, CNN reported Friday that “Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said the campaign is ready to bring into the fold anyone in the ‘feel the Bern’ movement who is not inclined to support Clinton in the general election.”

The network quoted Lewandowski as saying:

“You have two candidates in Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders which have reignited a group of people who have been disenfranchised and disappointed with the way Washington, D.C., and career politicians have run the country … Bernie Sanders has large crowds — not as large as Mr. Trump’s, but large crowds — and so there is a level of excitement there for people about his messaging and we will bring those people in.”

This is a fascinating political ploy, but rife with folly.

First, it is important to acknowledge that both movements are born of the same populist source: white working- and middle-class voters’ fear, anger, anxiety and disappointment over what they see as a broken political system, beholden to moneyed interests and oblivious to their pain, suffering and rage.

According to a Pew Research Center report published on March 31, Trump’s supporters are more likely than supporters of his Republican opponents to say that life in the United States has gotten worse for people like them compared with 50 years ago, and Sanders’s supporters were more likely than Clinton’s supporters to say the same. But still, there was a 40-point gap between the percentage of Trump and Sanders supporters agreeing with that sentiment.

This is a largely white American lament. A majority of white voters believe that things have gotten worse, while a majority of black voters and a plurality of Hispanic voters believe that things have gotten better for people like them in the last 50 years. It is these more optimistic minorities who have formed the bedrock of Clinton’s support and pushed her within striking distance of securing the nomination.

Furthermore, the Pew report found that Trump’s and Sanders’s supporters were the most likely on their respective sides of the ideological divide to be angry at the government; believe that the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests; and are more isolationist, believing that America’s involvement in global problems makes those problems worse.

And lastly, there is an implicit, or even explicit, critique of President Obama present in both camps, which seem to see him as a disappointment: either as feckless or fainthearted, either because he went too far or not far enough, either because he was not tough enough with our international adversaries or not tough enough with his congressional opponents.

This view of the Obama presidency as, at best, a disappointment, or at worst, a failure, is a pernicious and unsupportable lie that did quite a bit to sour minorities on Sanders and to rally opposition to Trump.

Obama wasn’t perfect. He didn’t accomplish all that he thought he would or could. He made mistakes. But, all told, he was true to the deliberative, center-left pragmatist that he has always been.

Indeed, according to PolitiFact, Obama has kept twice as many promises as he has broken.

He was never a superhero, but some of the hurt feelings come from him allowing people to believe that he was. As Obama wrote in the prologue to “The Audacity of Hope”: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” The thing is, he did not become what some people projected. He remained himself.

That said, these Trump and Sanders supporters are looking at the dragon from different vantage points and seeing fundamentally different dangers.

Trump’s supporters seem to see a country in decline, a government that is out of control and incompetent, an influx of immigrants that represent an existential threat and a culture that is hamstrung by political correctness.

Conversely, Sanders’s supporters see a democracy slipping into oligarchy, a country that has utterly failed to keep pace with its global peers on social structure issues — economic equality, taxation, health care and education — and has gone completely off the rails on many others, like criminal justice and mass incarceration.

These are not crowds that are likely to lie down together. Indeed, I would imagine that Trump’s brand of xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and fascism would not go down easily with the faction of left progressives that swell the ranks of Sanders’s supporters.

Indeed, The Washington Post reported in March:

“Polling shows little evidence that Trump has a shot to win large pockets of Sanders voters in November, should Clinton maintain her lead and win the Democratic nomination. Among Democratic-leaning voters who … prefer Sanders to win the party nod, only 13 percent have a favorable view of Trump, compared to 86 unfavorable, according to a Washington Post-ABC News national poll earlier this month.”

If these numbers are correct, any substantial Trump-Sanders coalition is a nonstarter.

It’s no surprise that The Real Estate Tycoon is trying to peel off Sanders supporters.  He’s looking at a loss of catastrophic proportions in November…  Here’s Prof. Krugman, writing from Lisbon:

Things are terrible here in Portugal, but not quite as terrible as they were a couple of years ago. The same thing can be said about the European economy as a whole. That is, I guess, the good news.

The bad news is that eight years after what was supposed to be a temporary financial crisis, economic weakness just goes on and on, with no end in sight. And that’s something that should worry everyone, in Europe and beyond.

First, the positives: the euro area — the group of 19 countries that have adopted a common currency — posted decent growth in the first quarter. In fact, for once it was better than growth in the U.S.

Europe’s economy is, finally, slightly bigger than it was before the financial crisis, and unemployment has come down from more than 12 percent in 2013 to a bit over 10 percent.

But it’s telling that this is what passes for good news. We complain, rightly, about the slow pace of U.S. recovery — but our economy is already 10 percent bigger than it was pre-crisis, while our unemployment rate is back under 5 percent.

And there is, as I said, no end in sight to Europe’s chronic underperformance. Look at what financial markets are saying.

When long-term interest rates on safe assets are very low, that’s an indication that investors don’t see a strong recovery on the horizon. Well, German five-year bonds currently yield minus 0.3 percent; in fact, yields are negative out to eight years.

How should we think about these incredibly low interest rates? Recently Narayana Kocherlakota, the former president of the Minneapolis Fed, offered a brilliant analogy. Responding to critics of easy money who denounce low rates as “artificial” — because economies shouldn’t need to keep rates this low — he suggested that we compare low interest rates to the insulin injections that diabetics must take.

Such injections aren’t part of a normal lifestyle, and may have bad side effects, but they’re necessary to manage the symptoms of a chronic disease.

In the case of Europe, the chronic disease is persistent weakness in spending, which gives the continent’s economy a persistent deflationary bias even when, like now, it’s having a relatively good few months. The insulin of cheap money helps fight that weakness, even if it doesn’t provide a cure.

But while monetary injections have helped to contain Europe’s woes — one shudders to think of how badly things might have gone without the leadership of Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank — they haven’t produced anything that looks like a cure. In particular, despite the bank’s efforts, underlying inflation in Europe seems stuck far below the official target of 2 percent.

Meanwhile, unemployment in much of Europe, very much including my current location, is still at levels that are inflicting huge human, social and political damage.

It’s notable that in Spain, which these days is being touted as a success story, youth unemployment is still an incredible 45 percent.

And there’s nothing in reserve to deal with a fresh shock. Suppose that Greece blows up again, or the British public votes to leave the European Union, or China’s economy goes off a cliff, or whatever. What could or would European policy makers do to offset the blow? Nobody seems to have any idea.

The thing is, it’s not hard to see what Europe should be doing to help cure its chronic disease. The case for more public spending, especially in Germany — but also in France, which is in much better fiscal shape than its own leaders seem to realize — is overwhelming.

There are large unmet needs for infrastructure and investors are essentially begging governments to take their money. Did I mention that the real 10-year interest rate, the rate on bonds that are protected from inflation, is minus 0.8 percent?

And there’s good reason to believe that spending more in Europe’s core would have big benefits for peripheral nations, too.

But doing the right thing seems to be politically out of the question. Far from showing any willingness to change course, German politicians are sniping constantly at the central bank, the only major European institution that seems to have a clue about what is going on.

Put it this way: Visiting Europe can make an American feel good about his own country.

Yes, one of our two major parties is poised to nominate a dangerous blowhard for president — but it has been obvious for a while that the G.O.P. was in the process of going mad, and the odds are that he won’t actually end up in the White House.

Meanwhile, the overall economic and political situation in America gives ample grounds for hope, which is in very short supply over here.

I’d love to see Europe emerge from its funk. The world needs more vibrant democracies! But at the moment it’s hard to see any positive signs.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 28, 2016

In “Bernie Sanders’s Legacy” Mr. Blow says it’s over, but the cause lives. The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever.  Mr. Kristof, in “Candidates, Let’s Talk About Women’s Health,” says a crucial issue — a matter of life or death — is missing from the presidential race.  In “Trump Deals the Woman Card” Ms. Collins says that he  doesn’t get that Hillary Clinton has spent her life championing women and their issues.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At this point, Bernie Sanders is the figurehead of a living idea and a zombie campaign.

The issues his campaign has raised are likely to resonate with the progressive left for decades, if not forever, but his path to becoming the Democratic nominee is now narrower than a cat’s hair.

It’s over. He knows it and we know it. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Sanders “is planning to lay off ‘hundreds’ of campaign staffers across the country and focus much of his remaining effort on winning California.” And yet he continues to carry the torch and keep the flame alive so that his supporters — or more appropriately, the supporters of the causes he has advanced — have an opportunity to cast protest votes in the few remaining contests.

He has gone from leading a revolution to leading a wake.

I think people have mischaracterized the choice being made between Sanders and Clinton. It is not necessarily a clean choice between idealism and pragmatism, between principle and politics, between dynamism and incrementalism — though all those things are at play to some degree.

But to me, it is more about where we peg the horizon and how we get from here to there. The ideals are not in dispute. What’s in dispute is whether our ideals can be reasonably accomplished by a single administration or a generation.

Sometimes you have to cut deals to reach ideals. That’s politics.

Now, you could argue that our politics are broken, as Sanders has, and you would be right. Moneyed interests — that of industries and individuals — have far too much influence. Our two-party system is heavily skewed to favor establishment candidates, although Sanders’s success and Donald Trump’s offer strong evidence that the party apparatuses are not inviolable.

(Yes, I’m using Trump’s name again. I didn’t for months as my own personal protest against the inexcusable and embarrassing degree to which media abetted and enabled his ascendance. But now, regardless of who helped make the monster, the monster is made — he seems on track to become the Republican nominee — and we have to deal with him as a direct threat, by name.)

What requires less debate is the often-repeated refrain that Sanders’s supporters are the future of the Democratic Party. In state after state, often whether he won it or not, he carried youth vote by wide margins.

Part of this is a generation coming into political awakening in the wake of the Great Recession, in the shadow of America’s longest war and saddled with ballooning student loan debt.

But another part of it is what Harry Enten pointed out on FiveThirtyEight on Friday:

The Democratic electorate turning out in 2016 has been a lot more liberal than it was in the last competitive Democratic primary, in 2008.”

Enten explained:

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the moderate/conservative portion of the Democratic primary electorate become a minority in the next 10 years. It’s the youngest Democrats who are more likely to identify as “very liberal.” It could very well be that someone matching Sanders’s ideological outlook will be more successful down the road.

First we have to see what comes of the general election, in a contest that at this point seems to pit Clinton against Trump. Although current polling shows Clinton with an overwhelming edge, making political predictions seven months in advance is a fool’s errand. If that could be done, Ben Carson would still be tied with Trump for front-runner status.

And while current polling favors Clinton, history does not. The last time a Democratic president succeeded a multiterm Democratic president was when Harry Truman succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945.

However the election breaks in November, the Sanders coalition — largely young, liberal and white — will not likely be satisfied. Either Clinton will win, and it will simply feel like a lesser of two evils, a subsuming of a righteous cause into a waffling contrivance; or Clinton will lose, and the Sanders coalition will feel vindicated that the wrong Democratic candidate won the nomination.

Either way, the cause lives.

Universal health care becomes no less attractive. Neither does free public college, or campaign finance reform, or a more pacifist foreign policy.

The Democratic Party, for better or worse, is likely to move further toward progressive purity in Sanders’s wake. This may backfire, and encourage a nominating process that pushes otherwise moderate and widely attractive candidates to adopt increasingly extreme policies that make them nearly unelectable, as has happened with the Republican Party.

That, to me, seems to be at least part of the Democratic Party’s future. Whether that is a utopian or dystopian future, only time will tell, but the reckoning is coming. This, I believe, will be a fixture of the Sanders legacy: Drag a center-left party further left — whether one calls that True Left or Extreme Left.

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

What if we talked about gun violence, and discussed only bullet size?

To me, that seems akin to the presidential campaign discussion of women’s health. Somehow in nine Democratic debates, not a single question was asked about women’s health, and when the issue came up elsewhere it was often in the narrowest form, about abortion: Democrats proclaim a woman’s right to choose, and Republicans thunder about the sanctity of human life.

Women’s health goes far beyond that. It should be a national scandal that a woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. That about 70 percent of pregnancies to young, unmarried women are unplanned. That a woman dies every eight hours from domestic violence.

In each case, we know how to address these problems. But we’re not doing it urgently enough.

It may seem, er, odd for a man to be raising the topic, but the lives of women shouldn’t be a priority for women alone. Mark Twain once mused about where men would be without women: “They would be scarce, sir — almighty scarce.” Twain is right that we men have a stake in the status of women, for we are sons, husbands and fathers to women we love.

The shortcomings in women’s health parallel those of men’s health and children’s health, and include a myopia about the importance of preventive and reproductive health. It’s a tragedy that nearly a dozen women die a day of cervical cancer in the United States, many of them young women in the prime of life. This is utterly unnecessary, for cervical cancer can be detected early with screenings and then defeated, but many women just don’t get screenings.

Likewise, the HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer, but even now, 40 percent of adolescent girls don’t get the vaccination, along with 58 percent of boys (the vaccine protects boys from other, rarer cancers and can benefit their partners).

When nearly a dozen women die a day of something so preventable — far more than are killed by, say, terrorism — you’d think we’d be urgently trying to save lives. In some ways we have made progress: Kudos to President Obama for making HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings typically free.

But we’re going backward when states close Planned Parenthood clinics that perform the screenings, without even ensuring that there are alternatives in place.

A second under-addressed area of women’s health is family planning. A slight majority of American women will have an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, and surveys show that American kids have sex about as often as European kids but have babies about three times as often as Spanish kids and eight times as often as Swiss kids. That’s partly because of meager U.S. sex education, and partly because of a lack of access to contraception, particularly LARCs — long-acting reversible contraceptives, like implants and IUDs.

The Title X national family planning program provides LARCs, cancer screenings and much more, and an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute found that Title X-supported clinics prevent three women a day from dying of cervical cancer — and also prevent one million unplanned pregnancies a year and 345,000 abortions. That makes Title X one of the most successful anti-abortion programs, yet Republicans regularly try to defund it. After inflation, Title X now has less than one-third as much money as in 1980.

“Women’s health” goes beyond the pelvis, so the conversation should include domestic violence. A woman is assaulted in the United States every nine seconds, and 20,000 calls a day are placed to domestic violence hotlines. When millions of women are beaten, threatened or stalked by current or former boyfriends or husbands, what is that but a women’s health issue?

I’ll never forget hearing from women in shelters about the gut-wrenching fear for themselves and their children that they constantly face — often with little help from the authorities.

In each of these areas, we have solutions. Screenings and HPV vaccinations prevent deaths from cervical cancer. Ready access to LARCs hugely reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Cracking down on domestic violence offenders, mandating treatment and taking guns from those under protection orders — all these help. But we’re not doing enough.

So let’s broaden the conversation about women’s health this political season, for the benefit of women and the men who love them.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

And it came to pass, barely seconds after he became the near-inevitable Republican presidential nominee, that Donald Trump began a gender war.

“Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the women’s card,” Trump said in the aftermath of his five-state primary sweep on Tuesday. “And the beautiful thing is, women don’t like her.”

Observers felt they discerned a distinct eye roll on the part of Chris Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, who was standing onstage behind the triumphant Trump. Her husband maintained his now-traditional demeanor of a partially brainwashed cult member.

People, why in the world do you think Trump went there?

A) He analyzed Clinton’s entire public career and decided her weakest point was the possibility of being the first woman president.

B) He felt his unimpeachable record on feminist issues gave him the gravitas to bring the matter up early.

C) The remarks were a self-censored version of an initial impulse to comment on her bra size.

Maybe all of the above. The man evolves.

Ted Cruz may have seen an opportunity, because he suddenly announced that Carly Fiorina would be his vice-presidential nominee. Fiorina, of course, was the candidate who Trump once made fun of for her looks. (“Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?”) It would have been quite a coup if Cruz were not coming off a quintuple-trouncing in the Tuesday primaries, as well as a failed attempt to woo Indiana sports fans in which he referred to a basketball hoop as a “ring.” The idea of being named his running mate was a little like being named second in command of the Donner Party.

Trump has actually used the “women’s card” line before, and his handlers do not seem to have made any serious attempt to dissuade him, perhaps being preoccupied with prepping him for that big foreign policy speech in which he mispronounced “Tanzania.”

Clinton loved it. “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the ‘woman card,’ then deal me in,” she said during her own victory speech.

Trump, in return, sniped at Clinton for “shouting.” Chatting with the hosts on “Morning Joe” post-primary, he said: “I know a lot of people would say you can’t say that about a woman, because of course a woman doesn’t shout. But the way she shouted that message was not — oh, I just — that’s the way she said it.” He also proudly announced that he was about to get an endorsement from “the great Bobby Knight,” former Indiana coach who once told an NBC interviewer that his theory on handling stress was, “I think that if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”

We would not be bringing up Bobby Knight’s checkered history today if it had not been for the gender comments. Trump is the former owner of a deeply unsuccessful football franchise. (Make the New Jersey Generals Great Again!) He is going to be endorsed by a trillion sports stars, and if we vetted all of them for sexism, we really would have no time for anything else.

But back to the woman card. “She is a woman. She’s playing the woman card left and right. … She will be called on it,” Trump told CNN. The interviewer, Chris Cuomo, reasonably asked how “you call someone on being a woman” and Trump retorted that “if she were a man and she was the way she is she would get virtually no votes.”

Do not ask yourself how many votes Donald Trump would get if he were a woman and he was the way he is. Truly, you don’t want to go there.

The bottom line on Hillary Clinton is that she’s spent her life championing women and their issues. She began her career with the Children’s Defense Fund, fought for better schools in Arkansas, for children’s health care as first lady and for reproductive rights as the senator from New York. As secretary of state she spent endless — endless — days and weeks flying to obscure corners of the planet, celebrating the accomplishments of women craftsmen, championing the causes of women labor leaders, talking with and encouraging women in government and politics.

It is true that politicians have a tendency to get carried away when it comes to hyping convenient details in their biographies. (Listening to Marco Rubio talk about being Cuban-American, you almost got the impression he had personally participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion.) But Trump is a white, male offspring of an extremely rich New Yorker of German descent. He’s had an unusual lack of charitable causes for a guy that wealthy. The problem suddenly becomes very clear.

The poor guy hasn’t got anything to talk about except real estate. He’s suffering from a severe lack of cards.

Blow and Krugman

April 25, 2016

In “Clash of the Injured Titans” Mr. Blow says that while  the likely nominees each have big negative poll numbers, the math seems to favor Hillary Clinton at the moment.  In “The 8 A.M. Call” Prof. Krugman says some understanding of economic reality would be an asset to a presidential candidate, but only one of the three main contenders appears to possess it.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

If trends hold and the parties’ front-runners become the parties’ nominees, November is going to be an epic election: a hobbled titan (Hillary Clinton) versus a mortally wounded one (the real estate developer).

The upcoming contests only buttress the possibility that those two will be the last man and woman standing.

As of Sunday, The Huffington Post’s Pollster average of polls had the real estate developer leading Ted Cruz by almost 30 percentage points in Connecticut, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Maryland. All three states vote on Tuesday. The real estate developer is leading in Rhode Island and Delaware as well — states that also vote on Tuesday — but those states don’t have the same volume of polling to make the results as reliable.

That same site had Clinton leading Sanders by 26 points in Maryland, 15 points in Pennsylvania and six points in Connecticut. She, too, was leading in Rhode Island and Delaware.

We seem to be watching the prequel to a foregone conclusion.

Now the question is: How would these two candidates square off in a general election?

As The New York Times reported last week, Paul Manafort, the real estate developer’s new campaign chief, seemed to suggest on a tape obtained by the paper that up until now, the real estate developer’s incendiary style was just an act.

This is how the paper reported the contents of the tape:

Mr. Manafort acknowledged Mr. Trump’s deep unpopularity — his “negatives,” he called them — but invoked Ronald Reagan’s initial polling deficit in 1980 to claim Mr. Trump’s deficiencies were not permanent. Mr. Reagan’s unfavorability in 1980, however, was never as high as that of Mr. Trump now.

“Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives,” said Mr. Manafort … “You can’t change somebody’s character. But you can change the way somebody presents themselves.”

And that, Mr. Manafort said, was in the works.

Will the real demagogue please stand up!

How must all of his supporters feel — the ones following him like wounded puppies because he is their rapid rabble-rouser who “tells it like it is”? Maybe he’s just been telling you what he knew you wanted to hear. Maybe he’s been playing on your anxieties, insecurities and anger to further his own ambitions. Maybe this has all been an act, a “part he’s been playing,” and you are the gullible audience who got played.

Maybe you are simply backing a man who has hijacked your passions and your party.

But on the substance, Manafort seems to suggest that his guy, the ultimate branding machine, simply needs one more rebranding, that his problems pale in comparison to those of Clinton, his likely opponent.

Maybe. Maybe not.

As The Wall Street Journal noted in a recent poll, Clinton’s unpopularity — as measured by poll respondents saying that they either have somewhat or very negative feelings toward her — hit a “dubious new record of 56 percent.”

The only problem for Republicans, however, is that “an astounding 65 percent” feel that way about the real estate developer, leading the paper to conclude that he and Cruz “may be the only two Republicans who could lose to Hillary Clinton.”

Exit polls in New York, where the real estate developer won by massive margins, revealed that even among Republican voters, 22 percent said that they would be scared of his presidency and another 14 percent said they’d be concerned about it.

Only 8 percent of Democrats said they’d be scared of a Clinton presidency, with 25 percent saying they would be concerned about it.

In fact, naturalization applications are on the rise, specifically because Latino immigrants are nervous about the potential presidency of the real estate developer. As The New York Times reported last month:

“Over all, naturalization applications increased by 11 percent in the 2015 fiscal year over the year before, and jumped 14 percent during the six months ending in January, according to federal figures. The pace is picking up by the week, advocates say, and they estimate applications could approach one million in 2016, about 200,000 more than the average in recent years.”

The article continues: “While naturalizations generally rise during presidential election years, Mr. Trump provided an extra boost this year.”

If Clinton lacks enthusiasm among her fans, that lack is likely to be more than made up for by voters’ enthusiasm for anyone but the real estate developer.

It’s too far from November to make predictions about the outcome of a race. We still have to learn the definitive outcome of each party’s nominating process.

There could be a surprise in Clinton’s emails or in the real estate developer’s taxes — should he ever release them. There also is a tremendous war chest of super PAC money on the sidelines waiting to get into the race, and there’s no way to know how that will shape the election.

Nothing is settled and inevitable, but at this point one must say: Advantage Clinton.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

As it turned out, once in office Mr. Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it. But asking how a would-be president might respond to crises is definitely fair game.

And military emergencies aren’t the only kind of crisis to worry about. That 3 a.m. call is one thing; but what about the 8 a.m. call – the one warning that financial markets will melt down as soon as they open?

For make no mistake about it: The world economy is still a dangerous place. Financial reform has, I’d argue, made our system somewhat more robust than it was in 2008, but fumbling the response to a shock could still have disastrous consequences. So what do we know about the shocks we might face, and how the people who might be president would respond?

Right now there are two fairly obvious potential economic flash points: China and oil.

Many economists, myself included, have been pointing out for a while that China has a severely unbalanced economy, with too little consumer spending and unsustainable levels of investment. So far, unfortunately, China hasn’t made much progress in dealing with this fundamental imbalance; instead, it has papered over the problem with a huge expansion of credit. Now, with capital fleeing the country at the rate of a trillion dollars per year, it may well be headed for a bust. And China is a big enough player that a bust there could have major spillovers to the rest of the world.

Then there’s a potential oil crisis, very different from the ones we used to have: the problem now is a glut, not a shortage, with many producers having run up large debts they probably can’t repay. You could say that shale oil is the new subprime.

Nobody knows how big these problems could become, or what other potential crises we’re missing. But it seems all too likely that the next president will have to deal with some kind of financial turmoil. How will she or he perform?

At this point there are three candidates who have a serious chance of receiving their party’s presidential nomination. Barring the political equivalent of a meteor strike, Mrs. Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. Donald Trump is the clear front-runner on the G.O.P. side, but if he falls short of an outright majority on the first ballot, Ted Cruz might still pull it out. So what do we know about their economic policy skills?

Well, Mrs. Clinton isn’t just the most knowledgeable, well-informed candidate in this election, she’s arguably the best-prepared candidate on matters economic ever to run for president. She could nonetheless mess up — but ignorance won’t be the reason.

On the other side, I doubt that anyone will be shocked if I say that Mr. Trump doesn’t know much about economic policy, or for that matter any kind of policy. He still seems to imagine, for example, that China is taking advantage of America by keeping its currency weak — which was true once upon a time, but bears no resemblance to current reality.

Oh, and coping with crisis in the modern world requires a lot of international cooperation. Things like currency swap lines (don’t ask) played a much bigger role than most people realize in avoiding a second Great Depression. How well do you think that kind of cooperation would work in a Trump administration?

Yet things could be worse. The Donald doesn’t know much, but Ted Cruz knows a lot that isn’t so. In a world in which gold bugs have been wrong every step of the way, repeatedly predicting runaway inflation that fails to materialize, he demands a gold standard to produce a “sound dollar.” He chose, as his senior economic adviser, Phil Gramm — an architect of financial deregulation who helped set the stage for the 2008 crisis, then dismissed warnings of recession when that crisis came, calling America a “nation of whiners.”

Mr. Cruz is, in other words, a man of firm economic convictions — convictions that are utterly divorced from reality and impervious to evidence, to a degree that’s unusual even among Republicans. A financial crisis with him in the White House could be, let’s say, an interesting experience.

I don’t know how much play the candidates’ readiness for economic emergencies will get in the general election. There will, after all, be so many horrifying positions, on everything from immigration to Planned Parenthood, to dissect. But let’s try to make some room for this issue. For that 8 a.m. call is probably coming, one way or another.

Blow and Kristof

April 21, 2016

Mr. Blow asks “What Is Sanders’s Endgame?”  He says what he has accomplished is miraculous. But having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.  Mr. Kristof, in “Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry,” says the Islamophobia festering in the U.S. is fed by extremism fostered by the Saudis.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Hillary Clinton’s commanding victory in New York on Tuesday put yet another nail in the coffin of Bernie Sanders’s candidacy.

As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn put it:

“New York, like every contest at this stage, was a state he needed to win. The result confirms that he is on track to lose the pledged delegate race and therefore the nomination.”

At this pace, Clinton will finish this nomination cycle having won more votes, more states and more pledged delegates than Sanders. Furthermore, Clinton has also won six of the nine general election swing states that The New York Times listed in 2012.

And yet Sanders soldiers on, as is his right.

But Tuesday, Sanders’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told MSNBC that if Clinton doesn’t clinch the nomination by pledged delegates alone, even if she has won the most popular votes, pledged delegates and states, Sanders will still take his fight to the convention. Sanders will “absolutely” try to turn superdelegates, who overwhelmingly support Clinton, and win the nomination that way.

First, barring something unforeseen and unimaginable, there is no way I can see that this strategy stands a gnat’s chance in hell of coming to fruition. It’s a fairy tale written in pixie dust.

But still, stop and consider what this means: The purist-of-principle, anti-establishment Sanders campaign would ask the superdelegates — the Democratic Party establishment — to overturn the will of the majority of participants in the Democrats’ nominating process.

The whole idea is outrageous coming from anyone, but coming from Sanders it seems to undermine the very virtues that make him attractive.

Power — even the proximity to it and the potential to wield it — is truly an intoxicant that blurs the vision and the lines.

Let’s back up and say this: What Sanders has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. He has gone from a little-known senator from a little state to being a formidable opponent to Hillary Clinton, a person who Gallup called in 2014 “the best known and best liked of 16 potential 2016 presidential candidates.”

And he has done it largely by hewing to a well-worn set of principles and values that he has followed his whole life. This has buttressed his aura of authenticity, particularly among young people jaded by institutions and establishments.

But miraculous feats do not necessarily make messianic figures, and having a meaningful impact does not necessarily create a sustainable movement, let alone a revolution.

That said, Sanders has tapped into a very real populist sentiment on the left, particularly among young people, that shouldn’t be denied. And he has made space for a similar candidate in the future to be more seriously considered from the outset.

He has also shined a light on how differently young people view our democracy, compared with previous generations.

Protests, rallies, marches and, yes, even caucuses, can feel more like direct democracy, where there is no remove between the people and their power. These expressions also offer a crowd-fueled adrenaline rush. This can be particularly attractive to people who have grown up in a social media world of viral videos, where collective outrage or adoration can yield nearly instant results.

Traditional voting is just the opposite. When you vote, you are alone with your ballot, even if your polling place is packed. The vote is private, not a public display of behavior to be instantly liked, disliked or commented on. Voting makes you part of the system, the representative democracy system, on which this country was founded and still operates.

This is not to say that young people don’t vote. They do. But the energy you see at Sanders’s impressive rallies, like those he held in New York, doesn’t always translate into electoral success. There seems to be a bit of a falloff.

While Sanders was campaigning in New York as a movement candidate, Clinton was campaigning as a micro-targeted candidate, appealing individually to each important demographic and burning something into supporters’ memories that they would recall when they were alone with their ballots.

That’s how elections are won. That’s how lasting change is made. It’s not by careening from one movement to the next, spawning of-the-moment hashtags for your activism.

Still, many of these young people have put their trust and faith in Sanders, who may well be a once-in-a-generation candidate, and he and they are loath to wake from the dream of his possible election. But, sadly, every day it feels more and more like a dream, and they will inevitably have to wake up.

Sanders has to figure out how he lands this doomed plane — does he set it down easy so that everyone walks away relatively unscathed, or does he go out in a blaze of glory?

Whatever he chooses to do will say quite a bit about his allegiance to his adopted Democratic Party and about his character. At the end of the day, is his ethos greater than his ego?

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

A college senior boarded a flight and excitedly called his family to recount a United Nations event he had attended, but, unfortunately, he was speaking Arabic. Southwest Airlines kicked him off the plane, in the sixth case reported in the United States this year in which a Muslim was ejected from a flight.

Such Islamophobia also finds expression in the political system, with Donald Trump calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country (“Welcome to the U.S.A.! Now, what’s your religion?”) and Ted Cruz suggesting special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods (in New York City, by the nearly 1,000 police officers who are Muslim?). Some 50 percent of Americans support a ban and special patrols.

Such attitudes contradict our values and make us look like a bastion of intolerance. But for those of us who denounce these prejudices, it’s also important to acknowledge that there truly are dangerous strains of intolerance and extremism within the Islamic world — and for many of these, Saudi Arabia is the source.

I’m glad that President Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia, for engagement usually works better than isolation. But let’s not let diplomatic niceties keep us from pointing to the insidious role that Saudi Arabia plays in sowing instability, and, for that matter, in tarnishing the image of Islam worldwide. The truth is that Saudi leaders do far more to damage Islam than Trump or Cruz can do, and we should be as ready to denounce their bigotry as Trump’s.

Americans are abuzz about the “missing 28 pages” — unsupported leads suggesting that Saudi officials might have had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. But as far as I can tell, these tips, addressed in a still-secret section of a congressional report, were investigated and discredited; Philip Zelikow of the 9/11 Commission tells me the 28 pages are “misleading”; the commission found there was “no evidence” of the Saudi government or senior officials financing the plot.

The much better reason to be concerned with Saudi Arabia is that it has promoted extremism, hatred, misogyny and the Sunni/Shiite divide that is now playing out in a Middle East civil war. Saudi Arabia should be renamed the Kingdom of Backwardness.

It’s not just that Saudi women are barred from driving, or that when in cars they are discouraged from wearing seatbelts for fear of showing their contours, or that a 19-year-old woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to 200 lashes (after protests, the king pardoned her). It’s not just that public churches are banned, or that there is brutal repression of the Shiite minority.

As the land where Islam began, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence among Muslims worldwide. Its approach to Islam has special legitimacy, its clerics have great reach, its media spread its views worldwide and it finances madrasas in poor countries to sow hatred.

From Pakistan to Mali, these Saudi-financed madrasas have popped up and cultivate religious extremism — and, sometimes, terrorists. A State Department cable released through WikiLeaks reported that in Pakistan these extremist madrasas offered impoverished families a $6,500 bounty for turning over a son to be indoctrinated.

To be blunt, Saudi Arabia legitimizes Islamic extremism and intolerance around the world. If you want to stop bombings in Brussels or San Bernardino, then turn off the spigots of incitement from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

“Saudi Arabia is not an enemy of the U.S., but it is an enemy of itself,” a Kuwaiti once told me.

A new survey finds that young Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa want to modernize, with 52 percent saying that religion plays too big a role in the Middle East. That’s true of many, many Saudis as well, and some have tried to start a desperately needed conversation about tolerance. One of them, Raif Badawi, a blogger, was arrested and sentenced to 1,000 lashes.

In the past I sometimes defended Saudi Arabia on the basis that it was at least moving in the right direction. But in the last few years it has been backtracking while also starting a brutal war in Yemen. Obama’s biggest mistake with Saudi Arabia was providing arms for that war, implicating America in what Human Rights Watch says may be war crimes.

In short, as a Saudi father named Mohammed al-Nimr says, “Saudi Arabia is now going in the wrong direction.” He should know: His brother, a prominent Shiite religious figure, was executed in January, and his son, Ali al-Nimr, has been sentenced to death for participating in protests when he was a minor.

“Americans should care, because what happens here can affect the world,” the father told me, and he cautioned that Saudi repression destabilizes the entire Middle East. He’s right.

Bill O’Reilly has denounced me as a “chief apologist” for Islam, and I’ll continue to decry what I see as Islamophobia in the West. But at the same time, let’s acknowledge that Saudi Arabia is more than our gas station; it is also a wellspring of poison in the Islamic world, and its bigotry fuels our bigotry.


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