Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow, Kristof and Collins

October 1, 2015

In “Jeb Bush: Crying Out Loud” Mr. Blow says most of his speeches ooze over him like cold gruel. But there’s one special phrase, when he hears it, that tells him to perk up and pay attention.  In “The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret” Mr. Kristof says everyone knows about the spread of war and the hopeless intractability of poverty. But everyone is wrong.  In “Planned Parenthood Talks” Ms. Collins says the only game in town goes into extra innings in Congress.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

In an interview this week with Sirius XM’s POTUS channel, the presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush said that Washington Redskins was not an offensive team name. As Bush put it, “It’s a sport, for crying out loud. It’s a football team.” He continued, “I’m missing something here, I guess.”

Ah, Mr. Bush, you always seem to be missing something.

As The New York Times reported, But Change the Mascot, an advocacy group that represents Native American tribes, responded in a statement that read:

“What is surprising is that in promoting the use of this slur, the governor somehow believes he speaks for Native Americans and can assert that Native American people do not find this slur offensive.”

The Times also reported that according to a Federal Election Commission filing, the Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, “donated $100,000 this year to Right to Rise, the super PAC that supports Mr. Bush.”

As always, follow the money.

But there is something else that I also follow when it comes to Bush: his penchant for saying “for crying out loud,” particularly when his back is a bit against the wall and he realizes that what he’s saying will be found controversial by some. It seems to be his way of dampening backlash before it happens.

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

As a person who uses language for a living, I find it hard not to notice rhetorical quirks committed by others.

It has become something of a parlor game for me to note whenever he says “for crying out loud,” which always seems to signal some level of exasperation. And, somewhere around that phrase, he seems to say something interesting, sometimes something careless, nearly always something that makes news.

It’s one of those subconscious things that speakers do — like scratching their nose while telling a lie or taking a drink of water when listening to a question that makes them uncomfortable — that journalists learn to pay attention to.

For instance, while in Berlin during the summer, Bush addressed turmoil in his campaign, saying:

“This is an adjustment based on the skills of people that I got to know during the last three months. … It’s June, for crying out loud, so we’ve got a long way to go.”

When complaining that the Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley should not have apologized for conflating “all lives matter” with “black lives matter,” Bush said:

“No, for crying out loud, no. We’re so uptight and so politically correct now that we apologize for saying lives matter?”

He continued:

“Life is precious. It’s a gift from God. I frankly think that it’s one of the most important values that we have. I know in the political context it’s a slogan, I guess. Should he have apologized? No.”

When a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman asserted in March that Republican hopefuls were being disingenuous in their attacks on Hillary Clinton over her email, and specifically asked “what emails has Jeb Bush not turned over?” Bush responded that he was “totally transparent. I have a BlackBerry as part of my official portrait, for crying out loud. There was nothing to hide.”

In August, Bush complained about the impracticality of building a border wall between the United States and Mexico, a plan advocated by the Republican front-runner. Bush detailed his own plan, which included beefing up the border patrol and local law enforcement along the border as well as using more technology like drones and GPS. Yet he demanded, “But do it as a conservative, for crying out loud.” He continued, “I don’t think we should spend hundreds of billions of dollars with an impractical solution.”

He was asked at a campaign event in Florida in July about his commitment to overhauling the immigration system. “Yes, for crying out loud,” he said. “It’s a broken system used as a wedge issue for political purposes.”

Many conservatives have accused Bush of supporting what they call amnesty and what others simply call a path to citizenship for some immigrants now illegally in the country. And of course, there was the conservative outrage over Bush saying that many immigrants come illegally as “an act of love.”

In an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting following the first presidential debate in which Bush bombed, he blasted the front-runner for his criticism of one of the moderators, saying:

“Megyn Kelly is a top-notch journalist. And the fact that she asked the guy tough questions … I mean, if you’re running for president of the United States and you think this is tough, try dealing with Putin for crying out loud.”

Bush has been struggling to get his footing in the race and rebuff and detract from an onslaught of insults coming his way.

While campaigning in New Hampshire in August, Bush commented on the huge Republican field — trying to deflect attention from the fact that he was no longer the G.O.P. front-runner — and how the candidates compared with the Democratic front-runner:

“There’s a lot of differences amongst ourselves but the differences pale in comparison to the differences that I have with Hillary Clinton, for crying out loud.”

The list of Bush’s nervous usage of the idiom goes on and on. I could have filled every one of these column inches with examples.

But Mr. Bush, I must say that I appreciate your little quirk. Most of the time your speeches ooze over me like cold gruel. At least now, when I hear your say “for crying out loud,” I know to perk up and pay attention.

Just think … Jeb! is supposed to be “the smart one.”  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.

Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.

Huh? You’re wondering what I’ve been smoking! Everybody knows about the spread of war, the rise of AIDS and other diseases, the hopeless intractability of poverty.

One survey found that two-thirds of Americans believed that the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has almost doubled over the last 20 years. Another 29 percent believed that the proportion had remained roughly the same.

That’s 95 percent of Americans — who are utterly wrong. In fact, the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty hasn’t doubled or remained the same. It has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).

When 95 percent of Americans are completely unaware of a transformation of this magnitude, that reflects a flaw in how we journalists cover the world — and I count myself among the guilty. Consider:

• The number of extremely poor people (defined as those earning less than $1 or $1.25 a day, depending on who’s counting) rose inexorably until the middle of the 20th century, then roughly stabilized for a few decades. Since the 1990s, the number of poor has plummeted.

• In 1990, more than 12 million children died before the age of 5; this toll has since dropped by more than half.

• More kids than ever are becoming educated, especially girls. In the 1980s, only half of girls in developing countries completed elementary school; now, 80 percent do.

Granted, some 16,000 children still die unnecessarily each day. It’s maddening in my travels to watch children dying simply because they were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But one reason for our current complacency is a feeling that poverty is inevitable — and that’s unwarranted.

The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.

“We live at a time of the greatest development progress among the global poor in the history of the world,” notes Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a terrific book coming in November, “The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World.”

“The next two decades can be even better and can become the greatest era of progress for the world’s poor in human history,” Radelet writes.

I write often about inequality, a huge challenge in the U.S. But globally, inequality is diminishing, because of the rise of poor countries.

What does all this mean in human terms? I was thinking of that last week while interviewing Malala Yousafzai, the teenage Nobel Peace Prize winner. Malala’s mother grew up illiterate, like the women before her, and was raised to be invisible to outsiders. Malala is a complete contrast: educated, saucy, outspoken and perhaps the most visible teenage girl in the world.

Even in countries like Pakistan, the epoch of illiterate and invisible women like Malala’s mother is fading; the epoch of Malala is dawning. The challenge now is to ensure that rich donor nations are generous in supporting the Global Goals — but also that developing countries do their part, rather than succumbing to corruption and inefficiency. (I’m talking to you, Angola!)

There’s one last false argument to puncture. Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates.

Haitian women now average 3.1 children; in 1985, they had six. In Bangladesh, women now average 2.2 children. Indonesians, 2.3. When the poor know that their children will survive, when they educate their daughters, when they access family planning, they have fewer children.

So let’s get down to work and, on our watch, defeat extreme poverty worldwide. We know that the challenges are surmountable — because we’ve already turned the tide of history.

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Ten years ago, did you imagine that Planned Parenthood would be the center of our national political life? No, 10 years ago we were just worried about George W. Bush and high oil prices. Sometimes I miss high oil prices.

On Wednesday the House passed a bill to keep the government running until December. Only 91 Republicans supported the idea, because it included funding for Planned Parenthood. (Thank you for keeping the national parks open, Nancy Pelosi.) John Boehner resigned because he was exhausted with the fight.

Right now the House of Representatives has at least three different committees investigating Planned Parenthood. That’s a lot of committees, although you do have to remember that there were once seven investigating what happened in Benghazi. And the current House specialBenghazi investigation has now taken longer than the one that looked into Watergate.

“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bragged to Sean Hannity on Fox News. McCarthy is hoping to succeed John Boehner as speaker, and he’s probably nervous about all the praise Boehner has been getting lately for evenhanded leadership. McCarthy’s remarks sounded awful to innocent bystanders — aren’t these things supposed to at least pretend to be fair? But it was probably meant to reassure his supporters that the team has never really faltered in its commitment to insanely irrational partisanship.

We will look forward to the questioning when Clinton appears before that special committee on Oct. 22. But about Planned Parenthood…

This week’s episode involved an appearance by Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Some critics have claimed the members made no attempt to actually get any information from their witness, but just made speeches for the cameras. Well, duh. At least they let Richards into the room. Which is more than you could say for the Judiciary Committee’s recent hearing on “Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider.”

Richards was fine, whenever she could get a word in edgewise. She explained several times that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding was mainly just Medicaid payments for treating low-income patients. However this is a concept that her opponents made it clear they plan to never get their heads around.

Peering down at Richards, Representative John Duncan Jr., a Tennessee Republican, noted that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America “received $26 million from the federal government, compared to your $528 million. Seems a little bit lopsided to me.”

Richards mildly noted that as much as she respected the Boys & Girls Clubs, it doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of providing health care services to Medicaid recipients. Unmoved, Duncan then demanded to know if Richards would defend “the sale of baby body parts.”

This is of course a reference to those heavily doctored videos that are supposed to prove that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for a profit. They have been determined to be false, false, false on one count after another, but the anti-abortion activist who made them has never been invited to a congressional hearing to explain anything.

The committee members are also sure that Planned Parenthood is replaceable. In the immortal words of Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, they believe they can just “shift the money from an organization caught doing what they were caught doing and give it to the community health centers.” You can tell them a million times that there aren’t nearly enough providers to take care of all those low-income patients. You can show them congressional studies. You can also tell them that Planned Parenthood wasn’t caught doing anything. Never mind. It’s hopeless.

Several Democrats on the committee charged their Republican colleagues with sexism because they continually interrupted Richards and talked over her answers. (Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia complained about “the disrespect, the misogyny rampant here today.”) But to be fair, this is really standard operating procedure in the House these days, and Richards, who is the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, is not exactly a delicate flower.

Her interrogators also harped on her salary, which is more than $520,000 a year. It’s a lot of cash, but not a stunning amount of money for a job at that level, even for a normal large nonprofit where the challenges are mainly administration and fund-raising. Being at the helm of Planned Parenthood in the current climate is more like steering a boat carrying unstable explosives through a rocky and narrow channel while surrounded on both sides by enemy pirates throwing burning torches and threatening to close down the government.

The base salary for the head of the Boys & Girls Clubs, by the way, is $576,000.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

September 28, 2015

In “Jeb Bush, ‘Free Stuff’ and Black Folks” Mr. Blow says this is more of the paternalistic attitude that ignores racism and assumes that blacks want to be victims.  In “An Unreliable Germany and the Volkswagen Debacle” Mr. Cohen says Volkswagen cheats, a timely reminder that German leadership will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.  In “The Blackmail Caucus. a.k.a. the Republican Party” Prof. Krugman says the Republican Party in the Boehner era has had little understanding of economic or political facts, and it will probably get worse.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

At a campaign event in South Carolina on Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was asked how he planned to include black people in his campaign and get them to vote for him.

Bush responded, “Our message is one of hope and aspiration.” But he didn’t stop there. He continued: “It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

There it is! If you let people talk long enough, the true self will always be revealed. Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of “free stuff,” this line of reasoning also infantilizes black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about black progress.

It echoes the trope about lazy “welfare queens,” although as a report last year from the Congressional Research Service makes clear: “Historically, nonwhite women had a higher labor force participation rate than did white women. This especially held true for married women.”

Furthermore, although blacks are disproportionately the recipients of programs likes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a 2013 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that most households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult receiving the benefit work, and of those with families, “almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.”

The problem isn’t refusal to work, but inability to find work that is stable and pays a living wage, thereby pushing them out of need and eligibility.

Bush’s comment also hints at the role of black men without acknowledging the disastrous toll racially skewed patterns of mass incarceration have taken on the fortunes of black families by disproportionately ensnaring black men.

All history and context are cast aside in support of a specious argument: That the black community is plagued by pathological dependence and a chronic, self-defeating posture of victimization.

And this is not some one-time slip of the tongue for Bush. In Bush’s book written two decades ago, “Profiles in Character,” he wrote: “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits, and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements — the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the black empowerment movement — have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin — or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”

Not only does this completely ignore the historical and structural effect of America’s endemic anti-black racism, it also misinterprets King’s own understanding of this phenomenon.

As King told an audience at Stanford University in 1967, he understood that the dismantling of legal segregation was in a way, the easy part. It was the structural racism, not written in law but on in the minds of men, that was harder to change.

He blasted “large segments of white society” for being “more concerned about tranquillity and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.” He slammed what he calls the “white backlash” for being the cause of black discontent and shouts for Black Power, rather than the result of it, calling it “merely a new name for an old phenomenon.” And he declared that true integration “is not merely a romantic or aesthetic something where you merely add color to a still predominantly white power structure.”

You see, King wasn’t naïvely oblivious to structural racism and how it cloistered power and inhibited mobility and equality; he was acutely aware of it and adamantly opposed to it. It wasn’t about victimization, but honest appraisal. Most black people don’t want America’s prescriptions, pittances or pity, and never have.

James Baldwin told The Paris Review three decades ago that he refused to think of himself as a victim, and that “perhaps the turning point in one’s life is realizing that to be treated like a victim is not necessarily to become one.” As Baldwin explained it, “if I took the role of a victim then I was simply reassuring the defenders of the status quo; as long as I was a victim they could pity me and add a few more pennies to my home-relief check.”

Pity doesn’t dismantle privilege, but supports it. Pity requires a perch. It rolls down. Pity reinforces imbalances of power. It can be violence operating as benevolence.

Black folk don’t want “free stuff” as much as the fulfillment of the promise of freedom: true equality of access, opportunity and justice. Bush — and America — would do well to consider that.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Germany’s leading company has toyed with the air people breathe. That’s shocking. In historical context, it’s devastating.

The Volkswagen scandal elicits more than dismay. It is one of those moments when the entire culture of a nation — in this case one of scrupulous honesty, acceptance of rules, reliability, environmental sensitivity and atoning dedication to the common good — is called into question.

Germany is never quite what it seems. There is a strain between its order and its urges. Formality may mask frenzy. When things go wrong, they tend to go wrong in a big way.

Postwar suspicion of it led other European nations and the United States to devote the bulk of their strategic energy to ensuring that Germany would never be all-powerful again. That, in fact, was their overriding concern.

The nation’s Constitution, its federal political architecture, its membership in the European Union, its place in NATO, even its adoption of the euro, were all in some ways constraining measures designed to avoid what has now come about: German dominance of Europe.

This development probably makes Germans themselves and other Europeans uneasy in equal measure. Europe needs leadership. But Germany is reluctant to lead: been there, tried that. Europeans, in turn, are reluctant to be led by a German chancellor. Self-righteous finger wagging from Germany, of the kind meted out in large doses to a near-bankrupt Greece, tends to rankle.

And at this moment, when all eyes are on German leadership — a phrase that long seemed oxymoronic — along comes the company perhaps most synonymous with Germany to install “defeat device” technology on its cars, cheat on emissions tests, spew deadly pollutants into the atmosphere from 11 million diesel cars, and declare in effect that it does not give a damn about people’s health so long as it becomes the world’s biggest automaker.

“I am not aware of any wrongdoing on my part,” said Martin Winterkorn, who quit last week as Volkswagen’s chief executive. “Volkswagen needs a fresh start.”

Talk about tone deaf. The wrongdoing has a name: Nitrogen oxides.

The man who led Volkswagen for eight years says he’s not aware he did anything wrong as he oversaw the biggest corporate scandal in the carmaker’s history — a massive, multiyear exercise in deception backed by persistent obfuscation when confronted with evidence of cheating.

Winterkorn is right. Volkswagen, with its 600,000 employees worldwide, needs a fresh start. Its engineers — adorned with angel wings, no less, in some ads because they were supposedly doing genial things — in fact plotted a nasty scam. But a fresh start won’t come through denial of personal responsibility.

Nor was the speed with which Winterkorn was replaced from within encouraging. It gave the appearance that no time was given to consideration of outside candidates. Matthias Müller, the former head of Porsche who became the new chief executive, is close to the Piëch and Porsche families, who together control a majority of Volkswagen’s voting shares. With a reputation for bluntness, he may prove the best man for the job. But the appointment smacked of cozy arrangements and a quick fix at a time when the company needs a harsh and deliberate appraisal of how things went so disastrously wrong.

Volkswagen is not the first company to cut corners to make money. It is not the first big company to betray trust and show contempt for society. It is not even the first global corporation to demonstrate a reckless disregard for people’s health and the environment. To state the obvious, there is nothing peculiarly German about such behavior.

But there is something peculiarly German about the chasm between professed moral rectitude and reckless wrongdoing, between high culture and low conduct, between angels’ wings and nitrogen oxides; and there is something peculiarly German about the devastating impact this has. Volkswagen should be mindful of the extent of the debacle as it assesses how to rectify the damage to its global clients, itself and Germany. Winterkorn’s throwaway line was shameful.

Germany has been pretty relentless about Greek cheating on its public accounts, tax evasion, nepotism, lax work habits and the rest. It had a case. Greece did all the above to get itself and the eurozone into their current hole. But its prescription — be more like hardworking, honest, reliable, virtuous Germany and get there through austerity alone — was far too rigid, and now all those lessons about cheating smack of gross hypocrisy. Leadership from the new Germany will fail if the temptation to hand out lessons is not resisted.

Earlier this year the chairman of another major German company, Lufthansa, initially insisted his company had done everything right after the co-pilot of its Germanwings jet deliberately crashed in France, killing himself and the other 149 people on board. Then he backed down and apologized for an oversight.

It’s time for some serious German soul-searching. Leadership demands that.

It’s WAY past time for some of the MOTU like those in charge of Volkswagen to be tossed into the sneezer.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

John Boehner was a terrible, very bad, no good speaker of the House. Under his leadership, Republicans pursued an unprecedented strategy of scorched-earth obstructionism, which did immense damage to the economy and undermined America’s credibility around the world.

Still, things could have been worse. And under his successor they almost surely will be worse. Bad as Mr. Boehner was, he was just a symptom of the underlying malady, the madness that has consumed his party.

For me, Mr. Boehner’s defining moment remains what he said and did as House minority leader in early 2009, when a newly inaugurated President Obama was trying to cope with the disastrous recession that began under his predecessor.

There was and is a strong consensus among economists that a temporary period of deficit spending can help mitigate an economic slump. In 2008 astimulus plan passed Congress with bipartisan support, and the case for a further stimulus in 2009 was overwhelming. But with a Democrat in the White House, Mr. Boehner demanded that policy go in the opposite direction, declaring that “American families are tightening their belts. But they don’t see government tightening its belt.” And he called for government to “go on a diet.”

This was know-nothing economics, and incredibly irresponsible at a time of crisis; not long ago it would have been hard to imagine a major political figure making such a statement. Did Mr. Boehner actually believe what he was saying? Was he just against anything Mr. Obama was for? Or was he engaged in deliberate sabotage, trying to block measures that would help the economy because a bad economy would be good for Republican electoral prospects?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but those remarks set the tone for everything that followed. The Boehner era has been one in which Republicans have accepted no responsibility for helping to govern the country, in which they have opposed anything and everything the president proposes.

What’s more, it has been an era of budget blackmail, in which threats that Republicans will shut down the government or push it into default unless they get their way have become standard operating procedure.

All in all, Republicans during the Boehner era fully justified the characterization offered by the political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in their book “It’s Even Worse Than You Think.” Yes, the G.O.P. has become an “insurgent outlier” that is “ideologically extreme” and “unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science.” And Mr. Boehner did nothing to fight these tendencies. On the contrary, he catered to and fed the extremism.

So why is he out? Basically because the obstructionism failed.

Republicans did manage to put a severe crimp on federal spending, which has grown much more slowly under Mr. Obama than it did under George W. Bush, or for that matter Ronald Reagan. The weakness of spending has, in turn, been a major headwind delaying recovery, probably the single biggest reason it has taken so long to bounce back from the 2007-2009 recession.

But the economy nonetheless did well enough for Mr. Obama to win re-election with a solid majority in 2012, and his victory ensured that his signature policy initiative, health-care reform — enacted before Republicans took control of the House — went into effect on schedule, despite the dozens of votes Mr. Boehner held calling for its repeal. Furthermore, Obamacare is working: the number of uninsured Americans has dropped sharply even as health-care costs seem to have come under control.

In other words, despite all Mr. Boehner’s efforts to bring him down, Mr. Obama is looking more and more like a highly successful president. For the base, which has never considered Mr. Obama legitimate — polling suggests that many Republicans believe that he wasn’t even born here — this is a nightmare. And all too many ambitious Republican politicians are willing to tell the base that it’s Mr. Boehner’s fault, that he just didn’t try blackmail hard enough.

This is nonsense, of course. In fact, the controversy over Planned Parenthood that probably triggered the Boehner exit — shut down the government in response to obviously doctored videos? — might have been custom-designed to illustrate just how crazy the G.O.P.’s extremists have become, how unrealistic they are about what confrontational politics can accomplish.

But Republican leaders who have encouraged the base to believe all kinds of untrue things are in no position to start preaching political rationality.

Mr. Boehner is quitting because he found himself caught between the limits of the politically possible and a base that lives in its own reality. But don’t cry for (or with) Mr. Boehner; cry for America, which must find a way to live with a G.O.P. gone mad.

I’d be reveling in schadenfreude if I weren’t so terrified…

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

September 24, 2015

In “The Soft Bigotry of Ben Carson” Mr. Blow says his  pedigree as a neurosurgeon adds gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.  In “Jews as Far as Possible” Mr. Cohen says being part of Stefan Zweig’s “community of expulsion,” Jews cannot now turn their backs on the expelled.  Mr. Kristof, in “A Pope for All Species,” says Francis’ empathy lifts humans, animals and Christianity itself.  Ms. Collins considers “The Pope and Clark Gable” and says a  parochial school teacher once offered twisted insight into the actor’s success and afterlife. The Catholic Church has made progress since.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

At first, he stood by that outrageously prejudiced remark, but after coming under fire from not only Muslim groups but also many conservatives, he soon tried to walk it back, to cushion and to caveat it.

On Monday night, he posted a message on Facebook that included this line: “I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenant of Islam: Sharia Law.”

Then on Tuesday, at a news conference, Carson said, “It has nothing to do with being a Muslim.” He continued: “That was the question that was specifically asked. If the question had been asked about a Christian and they said, ‘Would you support a Christian who supports establishing a theocracy?’ I would have said no.”

Only his original comment was unambiguous: It had everything to do with being a Muslim. And it was bigoted.

But this isn’t Carson’s first time at this rodeo. This has become his modus operandi.

Carson has a way of speaking in a flat, sing-song-y tone while flashing his toothy, 100-watt smile, that can be utterly disarming, if not completely charming.

His undeniable pedigree as an acclaimed pediatric neurosurgeon adds an air of gravitas to his nonsensical utterances and provides some cover for what can be poisonously harmful, over-the-line invectives.

Carson says in low register what others shout in anger, and he gets a bit of a pass because of the discordant message and method of delivery.

Just because a person is soft-spoken doesn’t mean that he is well-spoken.

Since Carson used his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast to criticize President Obama’s policies to his face, he has been lionized in conservative quarters.

It’s not that others have not criticized the president before or since, but it was the particularity of the racial imagery of Carson’s critique — one smart, accomplished black man undressing another in public — that gave it particular power. It insulated the attack from racial characterization. He said things from the lips of a black conservative that roiled the minds of white ones. And it represented a prominent breaking of ranks, a slicing off of black solidarity from not only Democratic loyalty but also from fidelity with this president.

Since then, Carson’s rhetoric has seemed to get only more reckless.

He has called Obama a psychopath and a liar. He has compared Obama’s supporters to Nazi sympathizers. He has said that Obamacare is the “worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” even worse than the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

He has asserted that being gay is “absolutely” a choice as evidenced by people who “go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” He later apologized in a statement that read in part:

“I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”

And even when his rhetoric isn’t reckless, it can be wrongheaded.

He has used the shallowness of race as a biological construct to disavow and diminish the depth of racism as a very real cultural construct.

And he makes the mistake many people do, of using his personal story of success as a societal prescription for all problems. I have always held that working hard and following the rules are their own reward, but I am not naïve enough to believe that personal behavior can completely countervail structural oppression.

Carson knows that his outrageous antics in his role as the anti-Obama are a most profitable enterprise. He mixes political critique with Christian theological messaging to rake in quite a bit of money on the lecture circuit.As Politico reported in July, Carson “brought in nearly $2 million delivering inspirational speeches to faith-based groups like Christian high schools and pregnancy centers in 2014,” with speaking fees ranging “from $12,320 to $48,500.”

This is a sad turn — spurred, I believe, by profit motive — for such a great legacy.

I, like many other African-Americans, had come to see Carson as a hero before his foray into politics because of the resonance of his personal story — a poor inner-city child being raised by a driven single mother who valued education and instilled in him a sense of character that would allow him to become a staggering success.

Carson was the embodiment of possibility. His 1990 book, “Gifted Hands,” was required reading for many young people.

But as a political figure, his stature is diminished as he reveals himself to be intolerant, bordering on soft bigotry, and also reckless and needlessly inflammatory. No one can discount what Carson accomplished professionally, but those accomplishments must now stand shoulder to shoulder with this new persona: whisper-soft purveyor of hyperbolic hucksterism.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

I should not be writing this column on Yom Kippur, in a break from shul, on an empty stomach, but there we are. Let’s put it down to another inflection in the many inflections of being Jew-ish.

Jews are a practical people. They deal with this world not the next. They are an argumentative people. They know that truth may be a matter of disputation, or may be arrived at only through disputation. They tend to accept that being Jewish, one may have to be Jew-ish at times, fall a little short, be a little approximate.

I have a column to write. Deadlines are unforgiving. Less forgiving than this Day of Atonement, whose significance was expressed in a phrase of Maimonides: “We have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, have cast them behind our backs, and removed them from us as far as possible.”

I love that “as far as possible.” Jews, as I said, are a practical people. Their interest is in the feasible not in magic wands.

This is a day of the inward gaze, of breaking from the world. It is a time for turning the mind and soul elsewhere, away from the ephemeral toward the eternal, away from multitasking toward mercy.

A column is very much of this world. Once published, it is debated in real time, commented on, bounced across social media, its clicks counted; and so publication, no longer a singular event, becomes a process that may be protracted and distracting. Life today is a battle against distraction. You start off intent on doing one thing and end up doing another. Or not doing anything at all.

It feels good, then, to set aside pretense of action for the fecund inaction of sitting still in synagogue, in my case the beautiful 175-year-old West London Synagogue, to listen to many things (including silence); and to reflect, arrested now and then by a phrase or just by the sunlight glinting through stained glass into a place of proportions that speak of harmony.

How inexhaustible are the words of the sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now when?”

A couple of millennia have not produced a better summation of realism allied to humanity allied to the urgency of the deed, nor a more powerful injunction against self-delusion, selfishness and procrastination.

I had arrived in London from the Greek island of Lesbos, where thousands of refugees who have fled the Syrian war are entering Europe every day on inflatable rafts. “Refugees Welcome,” said a banner at the entrance to the synagogue — scarcely the general view of Britain or its government. Jews, part of what Stefan Zweig called “the ever-recurring — since Egypt — community of expulsion,” cannot in good conscience turn their backs on the expelled.

In different renderings, throughout the day, a cornerstone of Jewish ethics was expressed: “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Recall what it is to be driven out of your land with no land to go to.

At no time did I hear of the God of dangerous certainties endemic to every form of fundamentalism. I did not hear of a God of revealed truths used to stoke the fires of confrontation between peoples, nor of an unforgiving God invoked by believers to justify zealotry or beheadings or discrimination or exclusive claims to land. No, this was the God of “whoever saves one soul, it counts as if he saved the whole world.”

Jews came up with the idea of a faceless God with whom they had a covenant, and that covenant — binding over thousands of years of uprooted wandering — was in essence a covenant of ethics. For a long time it was a covenant of the powerless. It would be a terrible outcome if it proved irreconcilable with the exercise of power, now that the long-awaited return to Jerusalem has occurred, and a strong and vibrant modern Israel exists whose founding charter of 1948 says the state will be based on “freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.”

Those prophets’ word was present in the synagogue. Zealotry is not the answer to zealotry. Being a practical people who have learned through the ultimate trial that without power survival itself is at risk cannot mean Jewish acquiescence to the injustice of dominion over another displaced people, the Palestinians. The teachings of the “community of expulsion” demand ever-renewed commitment to inclusion, even when it seems hopeless. Justice and peace are incompatible with the status quo in the Holy Land.

Perhaps such ideas are Jew-ish, the delusions of which “real Jews” in their absolutist certainties have rid themselves. But I will take the “as far as possible” of the Jewish philosopher over the all-or-nothing conviction of the Messianic Jewish settler.

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We all know that Pope Francis cares deeply for the marginalized, but did you realize that his compassion bridges the species barrier? Hesuggests that animals will go to heaven and that the Virgin Mary “grieves for the sufferings” even of mistreated livestock.

“Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place,” he has written.

I share his conviction that dogs go to heaven — indeed, heaven would be diminished if there were no dogs. And it’s exhilarating to see a spiritual leader whose empathy goes beyond the widow and orphan to, say, the parrot (Francis once blessed a parrot belonging to a former male stripper).

More on Francis’ empathy for animals in a moment. In a larger sense, it is this boundless compassion that has made him such a popular figure, even among non-Catholics.

Indeed, here’s the delicious irony: Pope Francis is revered even by many atheists.

The backdrop is that the Christian “brand” has suffered from culture wars, hypocritical televangelist blowhards and the sense that Christian leaders have spent more time condemning gays (whom Jesus never mentions) than helping the needy (Jesus’ passion). Some young people have gone so far as to avoid the label “Christian,” calling themselves followers of Jesus instead. It carries less baggage.

Yet I wonder if that taint isn’t beginning to fade. In the Protestant world, the baton has passed to evangelical leaders who are less interested in culture wars, and under Francis the same may increasingly be true of Roman Catholicism. In his remarks during his White House visit on Wednesday, Francis focused once again on climate change, the environment and immigrants.

Our public figures are often narcissists, utterly self-absorbed in their quest for power. And into this mix strides Pope Francis, drawn to the powerless, focused on issues like climate change and human trafficking, declaring, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined.”

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, the evangelical aid group, cites that passage and says Francis’ writing should be required reading across denominations.

“I have been deeply grieved by the damage done to the reputation of Christianity in recent years by Christians shaking their fists at the culture,” Stearns says. “Perhaps the shortest definition of God in Scripture is from 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love.’ Pope Francis is trying to show the world the simplicity of that revolutionary idea.”

Deborah Fikes, of the World Evangelical Alliance, puts it this way: “As a U.S. evangelical who has been so disappointed in how leaders from my own faith tradition have lost sight of what an authentic Christian witness really looks like, Pope Francis is nailing it, and this is resonating with Catholics and Protestants, including evangelicals.”

The excitement about Francis is about his tone as much as his substance, and he shares many of the conservative social values of his predecessors. To me, one of the most striking shifts that go beyond tone is one that has commanded almost no notice: his calls for animal rights.

“We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures,” he declared in his encyclical on the environment. “The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism.”

There are many such passages, including a warning against unnecessary experiments on animals.

It would be a mistake to say, as one animal rights group did, that the pope’s message is “go vegan,” and it’s unclear what the practical implications are. Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary has called on the pope to match his words by making the Vatican cafeteria vegetarian — but I wouldn’t bet on that happening soon.

Still, Francis is relentlessly shining his spotlight on the voiceless, whether two-legged or four-legged, and that is new.

Pope Paul VI is said to have once comforted a boy by saying that he could see his dog again in heaven, but Pope Benedict XVI contradicted that.

Charles Camosy, a Catholic theologian at Fordham University who has written a book about the theology of animal protection, says that Francis’ carefully reviewed encyclical this year constitutes the first authoritative Catholic statements that animals enjoy eternal life. Camosy says this is a milestone, although he says he would have also welcomed Francis’ clarifying our moral obligations to, say, pigs versus mosquitoes.

The pope’s sweeping empathy will benefit the poor, the refugees and, perhaps gradually, animals we abuse in factory farms. But it does more; his humility and compassion also benefit the reputation of Christianity itself, by helping to recast it from pointing fingers to helping hands.

And last but not least here’s Ms. Collins:

Watching the nation come to a screeching halt over Pope Francis’ visit, I had a flashback to my childhood in Cincinnati. One day I saw a picture of then-Pope Pius XII on the front page of the evening paper and I was shocked — Shocked! I had no idea that anybody in Ohio outside my immediate neighborhood knew who he was.

In our Catholic school, the nuns stressed our isolation, and they kept prepping us to be ready to die for our faith at any moment. Like St. Ursula, who was on a pilgrimage with 11,000 virgins, all of whom instantly chose martyrdom rather than surrender their purity to infidel Huns. (At the time, I just knew virgins were women who hadn’t married, and I had a vision of throngs of young ladies being pursued by barbarians waving engagement rings.)

Or St. Tarcisius, a Roman boy who was carrying holy communion to imprisoned Christians. There are many versions of this story, but in the one my teachers told, the job was supposed to be performed in total silence. When his pagan playmates asked him to join their game, Tarcisius clasped his sacred package to his heart and shook his head. Then the pagan boys guessed what was up and beat him to death.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Tarcisius might have gotten away unscathed. Maybe by pretending to have a sore throat? It seemed important to identify the best strategy, because some modern-day version of the Huns or pagan Romans could arrive at any minute.

Catholicism was, as I learned after the Pius XII incident, the largest faith in my city. Many of our teachers were probably only a generation away from being picked-on immigrants, and maybe they brought their sense of paranoia with them to the classrooms. That’s understandable, but being both the powerful majority and the persecuted minority is like having your cake and eating it, and then taking over the bakery and bolting the front door.

This brings us back to Pope Francis, a humble man who accepts that he’s very powerful. He may have a little car and a modest home, but when he looks out at the world, his gaze isn’t defensive. He wants Catholicism to thrive — on a planet without global warming. He knows there are places where Catholics are suffering terribly for their faith, but when he looks at an embattled flock, he also sees Muslim immigrants who need Christian countries to open their borders.

Almost everybody appreciates this is a terrific gift to the world. Many people were hoping for a second one: some change in the church’s dogma on sex. This seems highly unlikely. But if Francis can at least change the context, that would be terrific.

Catholic schools don’t focus on sex now the way they did when I was a student. But the current crop of bishops was probably educated in schools like mine, where the subject came up 24/7. When Clark Gable died, one of my teachers explained that since the actor had had several wives, God knew he was going to hell and had probably given him earthly success to make up for any good deeds he performed in this world.

This was not official Catholic doctrine. The reform-minded John XXIII was pope by then and he would have fainted if confronted by the Clark Gable theory. But it was an excellent example of how loopy things can get if a religion obsesses on consensual private behavior.

I remember one priest who told us that when Christ was dying on the cross, he sadly envisioned us Catholic girls sinning in the back seat of a car.

“Aren’t there any other sins?” I asked one day. I’d be sort of proud of having come up with the question if the follow-up hadn’t been such a failure. I couldn’t think of any other immediate possibilities. Nobody in my school even swore.

“Like …” I groped. “…Greed?” All I knew about greed was cartoons of Scrooge McDuck sitting on a pile of money.

There were obviously a lot of character failings we could have discussed. My friends and I were capable of floating for weeks without seriously directing attention at anything that didn’t involve ourselves. But as long as we kept away from boys’ wandering hands, we felt spiritually A-O.K.

This pope is highly unlikely to accept gay marriage, and he’ll never give abortion a pass. But in Washington he grouped abortion in a long catalog of wrongs that need to be righted: hungry children, bombing, “immigrants who drown in the search for a better tomorrow,” old or sick people who are treated as a burden, terrorism, war, drug trafficking and environmental devastation.

It’s a long, long way from believing that God looked at Clark Gable’s soul and saw nothing but a guy who got divorced.

Blow and Krugman

September 21, 2015

In “Don’t Coronate Carly Fiorina Just Yet” Mr. Blow says the candidate is weak on facts and on her understanding of the challenges less fortunate women face.  Prof. Krugman considers “The Rage of the Bankers” and presents the  truth about low interest rates, and why the arguments against leaving them alone seem to keep changing.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

The media has a new darling in the Republican presidential disaster pageant: Carly Fiorina.

She dominated, “dropped the mic,” “owned the stage” and of course she did it all while “standing in a pair of 3½-inch heels for three hours.”

This amount of drooling should come with a year’s supply of bibs.

It is true that she found a way to effectively engage and combat the Republican front-runner, something her male counterparts had struggled to do. Good for her.

But before the fawning frenzy spins out of control, let’s take a breath and an honest look at whom it is that is being cheered.

Part of Fiorina’s appeal, at least among Republicans, is the thirst for an outsider. A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken earlier this month found that 58 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of conservative Republicans want the next president to be “someone from outside the existing political establishment.”

Like the other candidates at the top of the Republican field, Fiorina seems to fit that bill. Only Fiorina isn’t a political outsider by choice, but by defeat.

The media has a new darling in the Republican presidential disaster pageant: Carly Fiorina.

She dominated, “dropped the mic,” “owned the stage” and of course she did it all while “standing in a pair of 3½-inch heels for three hours.”

This amount of drooling should come with a year’s supply of bibs.

It is true that she found a way to effectively engage and combat the Republican front-runner, something her male counterparts had struggled to do. Good for her.

But before the fawning frenzy spins out of control, let’s take a breath and an honest look at whom it is that is being cheered.

Part of Fiorina’s appeal, at least among Republicans, is the thirst for an outsider. A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken earlier this month found that 58 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of conservative Republicans want the next president to be “someone from outside the existing political establishment.”

Like the other candidates at the top of the Republican field, Fiorina seems to fit that bill. Only Fiorina isn’t a political outsider by choice, but by defeat.

But more importantly during Wednesday’s debate, Fiorina unleashed a scurrilous attack in her pitch to defund Planned Parenthood, saying of the attack videos released about the group:

“I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’ “

In fact, the footage of the fetus was “stock footage” that “was added to the video to dramatize its content,” according to PolitiFact, which rated Fiorina’s comments as “mostly false.” also said: “We are aware of no video showing such a scene.”

As Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall put it Friday: “Fiorina has a habit of simply making things up.”

But in a way, the veracity of the attack is only one of the problems here. The other is that Fiorina would deny reproductive health services to women who have vastly fewer resources, or choices, than she does.

Adele M. Stan on Thursday captured Fiorina perfectly in a blistering assessment in The American Prospect.

“The evil genius of Fiorina,” Stan wrote, “is her uncanny ability to play the gender warrior within the GOP while promoting the party’s misogyny.” Stan continued: “But her feminism seems to begin and end with the fortunes of Fiorina herself, and seeing as she probably doesn’t rely on Planned Parenthood for her health care, she’s happy to deprive millions of women of that care by promoting outright lies about the organization, as in her false description of the video she referenced.”

This distancing herself from the realities of less fortunate women is not new for Fiorina. When she became C.E.O. of Hewlett-Packard in 1999, she made the preposterous claim that “there is not a glass ceiling… My gender is interesting but really not the subject of the story here.”

How many American women pressed up against that glass would agree with her?

In 2005, Fiorina was unceremoniously ousted from that job. Since then, Fiorina has been trying to rewrite the narrative of that firing, pitting herself as the victim of an old boys’ club with a hint of cruelty, which couldn’t understand and appreciate her. She frames the firing as more about culture than performance.

But after Fiorina’s memoir “Tough Choices” was released in 2006, my colleague Joe Nocera wrote a column entitled “Carly Fiorina’s Revisionist Chronicles” that detailed Hewlett-Packard’s lackluster performance during her tenure and stated emphatically:

“So I come here this Saturday morning to offer a simple corrective. Carly, itwas about performance. And if you didn’t realize that then — and can’t admit it now — you should never have been Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive in the first place.”

We also have to ask ourselves now if Fiorina is the kind of person who should be president.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Last week the Federal Reserve chose not to raise interest rates. It was the right decision. In fact, I’m among the economists wondering why we’re even thinking about raising rates right now.

But the financial industry’s response may explain what’s going on. You see, the Fed talks a lot to bankers — and bankers reacted to its decision with sheer, unadulterated rage. For those trying to understand the political economy of monetary policy, it was an “Aha!” moment. Suddenly, a lot of what has been puzzling about the discussion makes sense: just follow the money.

The basic principles of interest rate policy are fairly simple, and go back more than a century to the Swedish economist Knut Wicksell. He argued that central banks like the Fed or the European Central Bank should set rates at their “natural” level, defined in terms of what happens to inflation. If rates are too low, inflation will accelerate; if rates are too high, inflation will fall and perhaps turn into deflation.

By this criterion, it’s hard to argue that current rates are too low. Inflation has been low for years. In particular, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, which strips out volatile food and energy prices, has consistently fallen short of its own target of 2 percent, and shows no sign of rising.

It’s true that rates — near zero for the short-term interest rates the Fed controls more or less directly — are very low by historical standards. And it’s interesting to ask why the economy seems to need such low rates. But all the evidence says that it does. Again, if you think that rates are much too low, where’s the inflation?

Yet the Fed has faced constant criticism for its low-rate policy. Why?

The answer is that the story keeps changing. In 2010-2011 the Fed’s critics issued dire warnings about looming inflation. You might have expected some change in tune when inflation failed to materialize. Instead, however, those who used to demand higher rates to head off inflation are still demanding higher rates, but for different reasons. The justification du jour is “financial stability,” the claim that low interest ratesbreed bubbles and crashes.

I suppose this latest excuse for raising rates could be right. But it’s striking how convoluted and dubious the case for rate hikes has become. I like to think of it this way: if left-leaning politicians were to offer rationales for their policies that were this dependent on shaky logic and weak evidence, they would be lambasted for their irresponsibility. Why does anyone take this stuff seriously?

Well, when you see ever-changing rationales for never-changing policy demands, it’s a good bet that there’s an ulterior motive. And the rate rage of the bankers — combined with the plunge in bank stocks that followed the Fed’s decision not to hike — offers a powerful clue to the nature of that motive. It’s the bank profits, stupid.

Many people have been led astray here by trying to figure out whether easy money is good or bad for wealthy people in general. That’s actually a complicated question. What’s clear, however, is that low rates are bad for bankers.

For banks make their profits by taking in deposits and lending the funds out at a higher rate of interest. And this business gets squeezed in a low-interest environment: the rates banks can charge on loans are pushed down, but rates on deposits can only go so low. The net-interest margin — the difference between the interest rate banks receive on loans and the rate they pay on deposits — has fallen sharply over the past five years.

The appropriate response of policy makers to this observation should be, “So?” There’s no reason to believe that what’s good for bankers is good for America. But bankers are different from you and me: they have a lot more influence. Monetary officials meet with them all the time, and in many cases expect to join their ranks when they come out on the other side of the revolving door. Also, it’s widely assumed that bankers have special expertise on economic policy, although nothing in the record supports this belief. (The bankers do, however, have excellent tailors.)

So we shouldn’t be surprised to see institutions that cater to bankers, not to mention much of the financial press, spinning elaborate justifications for a rate hike that makes no sense in terms of basic economics. And the debate of the past few months, in which the Fed has seemed weirdly eager to raise rates despite warnings from the likes of Larry Summers that it would be a terrible mistake, suggests that even U.S. monetary officials aren’t immune.

But the Fed did the right thing last week: nothing. And the howling of the bankers should be taken not as a reason to reconsider, but as a demonstration that the clamor for higher rates has nothing to do with the public interest.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

September 14, 2015

In “Bernie Sanders and the Black Vote” Mr. Blow says the presidential candidate has an uphill climb against the far greater name recognition of Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Cohen proclaims that “America Is Great” and that Europe is done with greatness. Been there, tried that. But America can’t live without it.  Prof. Krugman considers “Labour’s Dead Center” and says in contrast to the new leader of the British party, its moderates bought into conservative economic nonsense about the need for austerity.  Here’s Mr. Blow, writing from Columbia, SC:

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders spoke Saturday to a half-empty gymnasium at Benedict College in South Carolina. The school is historically black, but the crowd appeared to be largely white.

This underscores the severe challenge facing the Sanders campaign: African-American voters have yet to fully connect to the man and the message.

An August Gallup Poll found that Hillary Clinton’s favorability among African-Americans was 80 percent, while Sanders’s was 23 percent. Two-thirds of blacks were unfamiliar with Sanders. This could pose a problem after the contests in overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire, where he has surged to tie or best Clinton, give way to contests in Southern states with much more sizable black populations.

South Carolina will be the first test. According to The New York Times, 55 percent of South Carolina Democratic primary voters were black in 2008. Yet current polls show Clinton with a massive lead over Sanders in the state. And those polls show Vice President Joe Biden leading Sanders, even though Biden has yet to announce whether he’ll run. That’s why it’s important not only for Sanders to spend more time in the state, but also to pick a venue like Benedict College.

But appearing at the college, a favorite speaking spot for Democratic primary candidates trying to boost their black vote in the state, is by no means a sure path to victory. Bill Bradley spoke there in 2000 when running against Al Gore. Gore crushed Bradley with 92 percent of the caucus vote. Carol Moseley Braun announced her candidacy there in 2003but had to withdraw before the primary in the state. Al Sharpton and Wesley Clark spoke at the school in 2004, and both lost the state. In 2008, Clinton visited the school the day before the primary. She only won one county in the state.

Sanders is hoping for better.

There is an earnest, if snappy, aura to Sanders that is laudable and refreshing. One doesn’t sense the stench of ambition or the revolting unctuousness of incessant calculation. There is an idealistic crusader in the man, possibly to the point of being quixotic, but at least it doesn’t come off as corrupted by money or power or the God complex that so often attends those in pursuit of the seat behind the Resolute Desk.

Sanders’s message of revolutionary change to save a flailing middle class and challenge the sprawling influence of what he calls “the billionaire class” has struck a nerve with a fervid following.

I spoke with Senator Sanders by phone about his campaign’s need to reach more African-American voters, and I asked if he was worried about this need to broaden his appeal. While he resisted the word “worried,” he did acknowledge that: “Clearly, if we are going to do well nationally, it’s absolutely imperative that we aggressively reach out and bring the African-American community and the Latino community into our campaign, and that is exactly what we’re working on right now.”

Sanders seemed to understand the challenge ahead of him. He has to win the African-Americans who supported Obama and do so against Clinton’s enormous name identification and the deep connections the Clinton machine has built in the state. And then there’s Biden.

But Sanders’s ability to win Obama’s supporters may have been made difficult by his associations. On Saturday, Sanders campaigned with Dr. Cornel West, who recently issued an endorsement of Sanders.

West’s critique of the president has been so blistering and unyielding — he has called Obama “counterfeit,” the “black face of the American empire,” a verb-ed neologism of the n-word — that it has bordered on petulance and self-parody.

Sanders must bank on his strongest suit: policies. In June, his campaign issued a press release, “Sanders’ Agenda for America Helps Minorities,” that touted his civil rights record as well as included economic remedies like raising the minimum wage and providing tuition-free college.

Part of his problem is that he hasn’t been able to properly promote his message of helping minorities. I asked him if he believes that the coverage he has gotten has been fair and equitable. Rather than complaining about the quantity of coverage, he complained about the quality, what he called “the soap opera aspect of politics.”

He explained: “So if I go up on a stage and I slip on a banana peel, do you think that will make the front page of the paper? Will it be on CNN? Probably will. Meanwhile, I have talked in 20 different speeches that 51 percent of young African-American kids are unemployed and underemployed. Do you know how much coverage that’s gotten? How much?” He answered his own question: “Every single speech that I give I talk about that. I don’t know that it’s made the newspapers yet.”

Well actually, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have published articles that included essentially that statistic from Sanders. In addition, NPR, ABC News, Newsweek, the Huffington Post, The Week,National Review, RealClearPolitics, Salon, Vox and Alternet have published similar articles as well. But, I guess I get his point: He needs more — more quality and quantity to reach this essential audience.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Given all the talk, courtesy of Donald Trump, of making America great again, I’ve been thinking about European greatness. One state, Great Britain, does of course have its greatness built in, but still the idea sits strangely.

Europe is done with greatness. It thinks greatness leads to trouble. It’s been great — and suffered. The Great War (1914-18) killed about 8.5 million combatants and as many as 13 million civilians — not so great, really. Before that, a million people or so died in Ireland’s Great Famine.

Great European empires unraveled, often in bloodshed. Several hundred thousand were killed before France left Algeria. Not so great, either. No wonder Great Britain is thinking of breaking itself up.

From Sweden to Sicily, greatness is looked at askance. It feels like a code word for bellicosity, self-delusion and shoot-from-the-hip hubris. It has a whiff of danger: far better to curtail ambition and embrace ordinariness. Better to be the face in the crowd than the face on the cover of Time magazine.

Still, here’s a possible slogan for the 2017 French presidential election: “Make France Great Again!” (I can hear the seismic rumble of dissent on the Rive Gauche already.)

How? By believing in God, to begin with. Belief in God leads to belief in God-given missions, which must be good by definition. Anticlericalism was the start of the unraveling of French greatness.

Or perhaps by sending a neo-Napoleonic army out across the Continent (even as far as Moscow but without that painful retreat); by instilling an entrepreneurial spirit; by banning moroseness through decree; by restoring the scandal-tainted presidency to the monarchical splendor envisaged by De Gaulle; by scrapping the 35-hour work week; by getting tough on something (possibly immigration); by manufacturing multicolored campaign hats that say, “La France, Terre Éternelle de Grandeur” — “France, Eternal land of Greatness.”

That should do it! Would be great.

Or how about, “Let’s Make Italy Great Again!” It’s hard to know where to begin, really. Italian interest in greatness is about as deep as its interest in swapping its cuisine for neighboring Albania’s. Greatness: Been there, done that, a couple of millennia ago.

A first step might be reviving gladiatorial combat at Rome’s Colosseum, or making the trains run on time (again), or abandoning the consolations of style and beauty for the thrill of shock and awe, or, of course, manufacturing chic “La Grandezza Italiana” (“Italian Greatness”) campaign caps.

“Make Italy Great” is going to be a tough sell.

Then, of course, there’s Luxembourg.

No, greatness is America’s thing now, the recurrent frisson of a still-frisky power not deflated even by two wars without victory. Ronald Reagan, who also had striking hair, declared more than three decades ago, “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Trump is more peremptory, as befits a man of bullying inclination. “Make America Great Again.”

He’s doing great with it. He’s identified a genuine need. There’s work to do on American greatness.

I’m not sure, but I think it was while sitting on the Seventh Avenue express of the New York City subway looking at a map that helpfully showed stops for the Lexington Avenue line, when water started dripping on my head from the subway car ceiling and an inaudible announcement was made, that I realized I was back in the greatest nation on earth.

Or was it as I gazed at a man channeling his bristling defiance into the occupation of three subway seats rather than one, or as I listened to voices much louder and more assertive than they needed to be, or as I struggled to identify a station with no visible sign naming it, or as the temperature in the subway elevator hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, that the thought hit me that America was indeed the greatest nation on earth?

I cannot say when America being the greatest nation on earth really sunk in. It might have been as I walked along a garbage-strewn street in Queens beneath a bridge so corroded it seemed not of the last century but of the one before that. Or as I peeled small stickers off fruit and vegetables (I’d forgotten in Europe about those pesky little charmers) while listening to Trump confuse Iran’s Quds force with the Kurds. Every foreign war — and plenty loom if there’s a Trump presidency — is an American geography lesson.

America may be great, in fact I would argue it is, but it sure doesn’t look great right now. Europe looks better but is shrunken within.

Europe’s divisions, endlessly pored over, amount in the end to what Sigmund Freud called “the narcissism of minor differences.” The Continent is united in the rejection of greatness, while the United States cannot picture itself without it.

The most dangerous point in the arc of a nation’s power is when the apogee of its greatness is passed but it is not yet resigned to decline. That’s where Trump’s America is. Which is really, really great.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time leftist dissident, has won a stunning victory in the contest for leadership of Britain’s Labour Party. Political pundits say that this means doom for Labour’s electoral prospects; they could be right, although I’m not the only person wondering why commentators who completely failed to predict the Corbyn phenomenon have so much confidence in their analyses of what it means.

But I won’t try to get into that game. What I want to do instead is talk about one crucial piece of background to the Corbyn surge — the implosion of Labour’s moderates. On economic policy, in particular, the striking thing about the leadership contest was that every candidate other than Mr. Corbyn essentially supported the Conservative government’s austerity policies.

Worse, they all implicitly accepted the bogus justification for those policies, in effect pleading guilty to policy crimes that Labour did not, in fact, commit. If you want a U.S. analogy, it’s as if all the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination in 2004 had gone around declaring, “We were weak on national security, and 9/11 was our fault.” Would we have been surprised if Democratic primary voters had turned to a candidate who rejected that canard, whatever other views he or she held?

In the British case, the false accusations against Labour involve fiscal policy, specifically claims that the Labour governments that ruled Britain from 1997 to 2010 spent far beyond their means, creating a deficit and debt crisis that caused the broader economic crisis. The fiscal crisis, in turn, supposedly left no alternative to severe cuts in spending, especially spending that helps the poor.

These claims have, one must admit, been picked up and echoed by almost all British news media. It’s not just that the media have failed to subject Conservative claims to hard scrutiny, they have reported them as facts. It has been an amazing thing to watch — because every piece of this conventional narrative is completely false.

Was the last Labour government fiscally irresponsible? Britain had a modest budget deficit on the eve of the economic crisis of 2008, but as a share of G.D.P. it wasn’t very high – about the same, as it turns out, as the U.S. budget deficit at the same time. British government debt was lower, as a share of G.D.P., than it had been when Labour took office a decade earlier, and was lower than in any other major advanced economy except Canada.

It’s now sometimes claimed that the true fiscal position was much worse than the deficit numbers indicated, because the British economy was inflated by an unsustainable bubble that boosted revenues. But nobody claimed that at the time. On the contrary, independent assessments, for example by the International Monetary Fund, suggested that it might be a good idea to trim the deficit a bit, but saw no sign of a government living wildly beyond its means.

It’s true that British deficits soared after 2008, but that was a result of the crisis, not a cause. Debt is also up, but it’s still well below levels that have prevailed for much of Britain’s modern history. And there has never been any hint that investors, as opposed to politicians, were worried about Britain’s solvency: interest rates on British debt have stayed very low. This means both that the supposed fiscal crisis never created any actual economic problem, and that there was never any need for a sharp turn to austerity.

In short, the whole narrative about Labour’s culpability for the economic crisis and the urgency of austerity is nonsense. But it is nonsense that was consistently reported by British media as fact. And all of Mr. Corbyn’s rivals for Labour leadership bought fully into that conventional nonsense, in effect accepting the Conservative case that their party did a terrible job of managing the economy, which simply isn’t true. So as I said, Mr. Corbyn’s triumph isn’t that surprising given the determination of moderate Labour politicians to accept false claims about past malfeasance.

This still leaves the question of why Labour’s moderates have been so hapless. Consider the contrast with the United States, where deficit scolds dominated Beltway discourse in 2010-2011 but never managed to dictate the terms of political debate, and where mainstream Democrats no longer sound like Republicans-lite. Part of the answer is that the U.S. news media haven’t been as committed to fiscal fantasies, although that just pushes the question back a step.

Beyond that, however, Labour’s political establishment seems to lack all conviction, for reasons I don’t fully understand. And this means that the Corbyn upset isn’t about a sudden left turn on the part of Labour supporters. It’s mainly about the strange, sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.

Sound familiar?  There are Democrats today just like that…

Blow, Cohen, Kristof and Collins

September 10, 2015

Oh, frabjous day!  It would appear that Ms. Collins is back from book leave.  Mr. Blow says “Hillary is Hobbling, For Now,” and that the media, and possibly the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory makes a better story. And for Clinton, the only available trajectory was down.  Mr. Cohen, in “Obama’s Syrian Nightmare,” opines that Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be reduced to the point of meaninglessness.  Mr. Kristof says “Compassion for Refugees Isn’t Enough,” and that unless we address the war in Syria, the exodus will grow.  Ms. Collins offers us “A Presidential Primary Cheat Sheet,” and says let’s recap what the Republicans have been up to.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I must say that I’m starting to feel bad for Hillary Clinton. There is a sense surrounding her candidacy of building doom and imminent disaster.

She just can’t seem to shake the email controversy and the idea that the issue raises — or raises again — some kind of character flaw.

In an interview on Tuesday with ABC News’ David Muir, Clinton finally apologized for her handling of the controversy saying, “I’m sorry about that.” She continued, “I take responsibility and I’m trying to be as transparent as I possibly can.”

But every month, every week, every news cycle that the media focus is on the way Clinton is addressing the issue is a bad day for her, regardless of what she says or does about it.

And that is part of the problem. This controversy isn’t simply about Clinton. It’s as much about media as it is about her. Indeed, this presidential election cycle is particularly curious in the way that the media has made some candidates and damaged others.

I don’t find the controversy to be the scandal others have made it out to be, but that doesn’t seem to matter now. It is an issue with a life of its own.

There seems to me a gravitational pull of media desire that wants, on some level, to see her crash and burn. Twice snubbed. The “queen” goes down, again.

The media, and possibly even the public, loathes coasting. Trajectory, either up or down, makes a better story. Since Clinton started with such high expectations, the only trajectory available to her — and to those covering her — was down.

Now she can’t seem to stop the slide. She simply can’t direct the narrative away from the email and toward her policies. And this constant chatter about things other than her vision for the future and the suggestion that she is not being fully forthcoming is hurting her in the polls.

Clinton’s numbers continue to fall, and last month, when people were asked in a Quinnipiac University poll “What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of Hillary Clinton?” the top three responses were liar, dishonest and untrustworthy. Ouch!

But in addition to the media’s salivating for her failure, Clinton hasn’t really done herself any favors. Her cloistered, overprotective approach only creates a void that will be filled by something. It can often feel as if she is hiding herself, or something about herself, and that doesn’t read well.

Her advisers seemed to acknowledge as much in a story published by The New York Times this week:

“In extensive interviews by telephone and at their Brooklyn headquarters last week, Mrs. Clinton’s strategists acknowledged missteps — such as their slow response to questions about her email practices — and promised that this fall the public would see the sides of Mrs. Clinton that are often obscured by the noise and distractions of modern campaigning.”

Furthermore, it is hard to know what the unifying message of the Clinton campaign is. Is there a bumper sticker message? If there is, I don’t know it.

A close primary rival in the polls, Bernie Sanders, who is gaining on Clinton in Iowa and has overtaken her in New Hampshire, has such a message: He’s saying to the über rich, “You can’t have it all.” (It should be noted that many of Sanders’s supporters are also complaining about media coverage, suggesting that Sanders hasn’t received his fair share.)

Joe Biden, who is considering jumping into the race, must be looking at all of this and feeling a hand on his back. What if Clinton completely collapses? If Bernie Sanders were the Democratic nominee, could a man who identifies as a “democratic socialist” win the general election, even if people basically liked his policies?

Anything is possible, especially when you look at the disaster unfolding on the Republican side, but I assume that the Democratic establishment is getting increasingly nervous.

Clinton is attempting to reboot her campaign, but even that carries with it the mild taint of desperation. As David A. Graham put it in The Atlantic: “It’s a bad sign when your presidential campaign needs a reboot. It’s a worse sign when your advisers announce that reboot publicly.”

It’s not clear to me how this story ends other than how it appears it wants to end: badly.

The only things working in Clinton’s favor at this point are the fact that it is still incredibly early in the election cycle — and that the only thing the media likes more than a fall from grace story is a comeback story.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Syria will be the biggest blot on the Obama presidency, a debacle of staggering proportions. For more than four years now, the war has festered. A country has been destroyed, four million Syrians are refugees, Islamic State has moved into the vacuum and President Bashar al-Assad still drops barrel bombs whose shrapnel and chlorine rip women and children to shreds.

For a long time, those who fled waited in the neighborhood. They wanted to go home. They filled camps in Turkey and Jordan and Lebanon. When it became clear even to them that “home” no longer existed, nothing could stop them in their desperate flight toward the perceived security of Europe. The refugee crisis is the chronicle of a disaster foretold.

The refugees do not care what “Christian” Europe thinks. They are beyond caring about Europe’s hang-ups or illusions. They want their children to live. In their homeland, more than 200,000 people have been killed. Statistics numb, but less so when you know the dead. This evisceration of a state is a consequence of many things, among them Western inaction.

American interventionism can have terrible consequences, as the Iraq war has demonstrated. But American non-interventionism can be equally devastating, as Syria illustrates. Not doing something is no less of a decision than doing it. The pendulum swings endlessly between interventionism and retrenchment because the United States is hard-wired to the notion that it can make the world a better place. Looking inward for long is a non-option for a nation that is also a universal idea. Every major conflict poses the question of how far America should get involved.

President Obama has tried to claw back American overreach after the wars without victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has responded to a mood of national weariness with foreign adventure (although Americans have not been very happy with Obama’s pivot to prudence). He has tried better to align American power with what is, in his perception, America’s limited ability to make a difference on its own at a time of growing interdependence. One definition of the Obama doctrine came from the president last year when he declared: “It avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run.” Or, more succinctly, “Don’t do stupid stuff.”

But that’s not enough, as Syria demonstrates. President Obama has important foreign policy achievements, including breakthrough agreements with Iran and Cuba that took courage and persistence. (How those breakthroughs will play out remains to be seen, but they constitute a victory over sterile confrontation.) Elsewhere, however, he has undersold American power. In Syria and Libya he has washed his hands of conflicts that the United States could not turn its back on. Such negligence comes back to bite America, as its experience in Afghanistan since the 1980s has shown. Nobody loves a vacuum like a jihadi. And nobody likes American wobbliness like Vladimir Putin.

In 2011, Obama said, “The time has come for President Assad to step aside.” At that time, as events have shown, the president had no policy in place to achieve that objective and no will to forge such a policy. His words were of a grave irresponsibility.

In 2013, with France poised to join the United States in military strikes on Syria, Obama walked away at the last minute from upholding his “red line” on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. In so doing, he reinforced Assad, reinforced Putin, declined to change the course of the Syrian war, and diminished America’s word in the world — setbacks of far greater significance than ridding Syria of chemical weapons. This was a mistake.

Yes, China and Russia have consistently obstructed concerted action on Syria in the United Nations Security Council. Yes, the shifting array of forces and interests in Syria has been a challenge to policy. Yes, even limited intervention had its dangers. But, no! Such ruination was not an inevitable outcome.

At multiple stages, if Obama could have mustered the will, the belief in American power, there were options. The Syrian aircraft dropping those barrel bombs could have been taken out. A safe area for refugees might have been created. Arming the rebels early and massively might have changed the course of the war. Counterfactuals, of course, don’t carry much weight. We will never know. We only know the facts of the Syrian nightmare now seeping, in various forms, into the West. Syria, broken, will be the rift that keeps on giving.

In Libya, Obama bombed and abandoned. In Afghanistan, Obama surged and retreated. In Syria, Obama talked and wavered. He has been comfortable with the pinpoint use of force — the killing of Osama bin Laden for example — but uncomfortable with American military power.

Syria is the question the Obama doctrine must answer if it is not to be deemed modest to the point of meaninglessness.

Yeah — let’s drop some more bombs and shoot down some planes.  And arm, MASSIVELY.  What could POSSIBLY go wrong?  (And for what it’s worth, it’s Bush’s nightmare since he’s the prime cause for ISIS.)  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

Bravo to Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and so many ordinary Germans and Austrians who have welcomed refugees into their lands. Kudos to those American politicians acknowledging that we should accept more Syrian refugees — the U.S. has admitted only 1,500 since the war started four years ago, which is pathetic.

If you have a heart, you’re moved by the refugees. But if you have a head, you also know that welcoming them in Germany won’t resolve the crisis.

There are 60 million people displaced worldwide, and more will now be willing to board flimsy boats to cross the sea.

“The trickle of refugees is only going to get bigger,” says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma. “Once people see that refugees are going to be taken in by the West, they’re going to stampede. This problem is going to metastasize.”

Unless we’re careful, the upshot could be more drowned toddlers.

As we inadvertently boost this tide of refugees, beneficiaries will include human smugglers and skinheads, neo-Nazis and far-right xenophobic politicians. An anti-immigrant party now leads the polls in Sweden, and Germany has reported 340 attacks on asylum seekers, including an apparent arson this week at a home sheltering them.

So by all means let’s respond with compassion to the refugees (not as jerks, as Hungarian officials have). But above all, let’s address the crisis at its roots, particularly in the Middle East.

One essential step is to improve conditions for the 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The World Food Program was just forced to cut 229,000 refugees in Jordan off food rations because it ran out of money, and if the world won’t pay for refugees to eat in Jordan, it will have to feed them in the West.

Then there’s the far more difficult task of trying to make Syria habitable again.

This may be impossible, but let’s be clear: As things stand, we’re on a trajectory for Syria to become even more horrific than it is now. Many experts expect the war to drag on for years, kill hundreds of thousands more people, and lead to an exodus of millions more refugees. We’re likely to see street-to-street fighting soon in Damascus, lifting the suffering and emigration to a new level.

I’m shaken by pleas I’ve seen from women in the besieged Syrian city of Zabadani, which for months has been surrounded by forces supporting the government. They fear that if the government forces take Zabadani, there will be massacres.

So hundreds of women in Zabadani have signed a statement calling for a cease-fire, international protection and evacuation of the wounded. They bravely use their names, despite the risk that they will be murdered or raped if the city falls.

“I’ve never been so depressed,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East analyst and author of a book on Syria. “There were options early on. But the options today are all costlier, riskier and come with lower returns.”

Yet as long as we’re talking about Syrian dysfunction, let’s also note European and American dysfunction. The Obama administration hasrepeatedly miscalculated on Syria and underestimated the problem, even as the crisis has steadily worsened. And some leading Republicans want to send in troops to confront the Islamic State (think Iraq redux).

The least bad option today is to create a no-fly zone in the south of Syria. This could be done on a shoestring, enforced by U.S. Navy ships in the Mediterranean firing missiles, without ground troops.

That would end barrel bombings. Just as important, the no-fly zone would create leverage to pressure the Syrian regime — and its Russian and Iranian backers — to negotiate.

“If they can’t use their aircraft, the day after they will know they can’t survive, and that will bring them to the table,” said Reza Afshar, a former British diplomat who now advises the Syrian opposition through his group, Independent Diplomat.

The aim of the talks, with no preconditions on either side, would be a cease-fire with a tweaking of boundary lines.

Look, this would be ugly. It would amount to a de facto partition of Syria and the partial survival of the regime, perhaps with a new Alawite general replacing President Bashar al-Assad. Yet otherwise we may be standing by as the slaughter spirals toward genocide.

Robert Ford, a former American ambassador to Syria who resigned because he found the Obama administration’s Syria policy indefensible, says a negotiation, even if successful, might drag on for two years as the carnage continued. Still, that’s better than the alternatives.

“It’s irresponsible to throw up our hands and say there’s nothing that can be done,” he added. “Then, almost certainly things will get worse.”

And now let’s welcome Ms. Collins back from book leave:

The presidential campaign is getting serious, people. Just four months to the Iowa caucuses! You’re supposed to be concerned citizens, and your friends are going to expect you to update them regularly. If you can’t, be prepared to take an active part in discussions about the Tom Brady divorce rumors.

Today, the Republicans. Things we learned this summer about Jeb Bush:

■ His first name is actually John. And there is certainly nothing wrong with “John Bush,” except that it sounds like something on a fake ID card.

■ He seems wounded that Donald Trump keeps saying he’s boring. At one Republican meeting he promised to “unleash the American animal spirits.”

■ He’s come up with a way to criticize George W. without mentioning Iraq. “He should have brought the hammer down on the Republicans when they were spending way too much,” he told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show.” This presumably refers to a new entitlement — much hated by fiscal conservatives — that extended Medicare coverage to prescription drugs. Do you think John Bush is going to campaign on repealing it? As a political tactic it’s about as promising as Chris Christie’s idea that he could reboot his campaign by vowing to cut back on Social Security.

Ben Carson has been surging! It’s easy to understand his popularity. He has a compelling life story about raising himself up from poverty to become a brain surgeon, and he was the least needy-looking candidate in the first Republican debate. On the other side, it is kind of unnerving that he doesn’t believe in evolution. Most Republican candidates try to fudge that one, by changing the subject or saying something like “I am not a scientist.” But Carson really doesn’t believe in evolution. And he is, you know, a scientist.

On Wednesday Donald Trump assured a rally in Washington that his experience in marketing luxury real estate would make him a brilliant international diplomat. Meanwhile, a forthcoming biography reveals that Trump, who energetically avoided the Vietnam draft, “felt that I was in the military in the true sense” because his parents once sent him to a military boarding school. Coming soon: Trump explains that he understands the suffering of the Syrian refugees because of his experience firing people on reality TV.

Carly Fiorina is another outsider, running on her career as a C.E.O. of a Fortune 500 corporation. It is true that she was fired after a disastrous performance, but nobody’s perfect. Fiorina was the star of the backup debate in August, besting nationally known figures like Jim Gilmore, the former governor of … a state. Her performance was so outstanding that she is set to be promoted to the top-dog debate next week. But nobody is being demoted! Obviously CNN understands that what the nation really needs this September is an 11-person argument.

Pop Quiz: Who should CNN throw out to make room for Carly Fiorina?

A) Mike Huckabee — the evangelical vote has gone to Ben Carson, andJohn Kasich has taken over the conservative-with-a-heart thing Huckabee used to do until he discovered having a heart wasn’t actually all that popular.

B) The libertarian who doesn’t believe in reproductive rights.

Blow, Cohen and Krugman

September 7, 2015

In “Sexual Attraction and Fluidity” Mr. Blow says people must define their own sexuality, despite the categories others would impose.  In “Aylan Kurdi’s Europe” Mr. Cohen says Europe, cursed by too much history, thy name is forgetfulness. A wave of refugees from war must spur Europe to new unity and openness.  Prof. Krugman says “Trump Is Right on Economics” and that Jeb Bush’s attacks on the G.O.P. front-runner are on issues where the Republican voting base and the party’s rich donors diverge.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Recently, Miley Cyrus told Elle UK, “I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual.”

In June, she’d told Paper Magazine:

“I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me.”

There was something about the casual, carefree-ness of the statements that I found both charming and revolutionary. It took a happy-go-lucky sledgehammer to the must-fit-a-box binary that constrains and restricts our understanding of the complexity of human sexuality.

As much progress as has been made in the acceptance of L.G.B.T.-identified people in society, there is still a surprising level of resistance to people who identify as the B in that list of letters (bisexual) — or pansexual or omnisexual or even asexual — and that resistance comes from straight and gay people alike.

I wrote in my memoir, “Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” about identifying as bisexual because “in addition to being attracted to women, I could also be attracted to men.” I also wrote about the tremendous amount of agitation, and even hostility, that people — particularly men — so identified can engender:

“Even the otherwise egalitarian would have no qualms about raising questions and casting doubt. Many could only conceive of bisexuality in the way it existed for most people willing to admit to it: as a transitory identity — a pit stop or a hiding place — and not a permanent one.”

Yet, I don’t feel in any way defective or isolated in my identity. If fact, I feel liberated or and even enlightened by it.

And, more young people like Cyrus appear to be joining in that enlightenment. The market research firm YouGov asked British adultslast month to plot themselves on the sexuality scale created by Alfred Kinsey in 1940s, with zero being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual.

The survey found that while 89 percent of the respondents overall describe themselves as heterosexual, “The results for 18-24-year-olds are particularly striking, as 43 percent place themselves in the non-binary area between 1 and 5 and 52 percent place themselves at one end or the other. Of these, only 46 percent say they are completely heterosexual and 6 percent as completely homosexual.”

YouGov then released data from the United States where respondents were asked to do the same self-rating. The American datafound that “29 percent of under 30s put themselves somewhere on the category of bisexuality.”

Obviously, these ratings weren’t meant to measure sexual activity, intimate histories or label identification, but they were meant to measure “the possibility of homosexual feelings and experiences.”

YouGov is not the only group that has tried to get a handle on the fluid middle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Survey of Family Growth presented data from 2006-2008 in a 2011 report that showed that 16 percent of American women and 5 percent of men under 45 refused to say they were attracted to only one sex, instead admitting that they were only mostly attracted to one sex, were equally attracted to both, or were unsure. In that survey, 21 percent of women 20-24 years old and 7 percent of men in those ages said that they were somewhere in the middle.

And remember, 2008 is forever ago on the rapidly changing issue of L.G.B.T. acceptability. For instance, according to Gallup, only 48 percent of Americans in 2008 found gay and lesbian relations morally acceptable. That number has now jumped to 63 percent, and among those ages 18-34 it is now at 79 percent.

Attraction is simply more nuanced for more people than some of us want to admit, sometimes even to ourselves. That attraction may never manifest as physical intimacy, nor does it have to, but denying that it exists creates a false, naïve and ultimately destructive sense or what is normal and possible.

Furthermore, different people can experience attraction differently. For some, the order of attraction starts with body first. That’s fine. For others though, it starts with the being first, the human being, regardless of the body and its gender. That’s also fine. And yet, the idea that one can have a physiological response to something other than gendered physicality seems to some antithetical to their rigid, superannuated notions of attraction, or even heretical to it.

But it seems more younger people are liberating themselves from this thinking and coming to better understand and appreciate that people must have the freedom to be fluid if indeed they are, and that no one has the right to define or restrict the parameters of another person’s attractions, love or intimacy.

People must be allowed to be themselves, however they define themselves, and they owe the world no explanation of it or excuse for it. They have to be reminded that the only choices they need to make are to choose honesty and safety.

Attraction is attraction, and it doesn’t always wear a label.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Oh, Europe, the Mediterranean, cradle of civilization, is a watery grave. At the side of an Austrian highway, 71 nameless refugees perish, asphyxiated in a modern-day boxcar. Czech authorities, armed with indelible markers but bereft of a sense of history, inscribe identification numbers on the skin of 200 migrants. Others are duped by Hungarian police with promises of “freedom” and find themselves in a “reception” camp (where presumably they are offered a shower).

Oh, Europe, Slovakia wants only Christian refugees, not the Muslims of Syria or Afghanistan. Viktor Orban, the puffed-up little Putin serving as Hungary’s prime minister, says he is protecting “European civilization” — read Christian Europe — as a 175-kilometer razor wire fence is installed along the Serbian border. David Cameron speaks of a “swarm” of migrants trying to reach Britain; it is locusts that move in swarms. A three-year-old Syrian boy, his little left hand folded back as if he were asleep in a crib, lies dead on a Turkish beach, his face in the sand, his silent reproach indelible. He was called Aylan Kurdi. His family wanted to bring him to Europe.

The shadows return, freighted with ironies. Orban’s Hungary turns its back on the magnificent Hungary of 1989, the first country to open the Iron Curtain a crack as it allowed tens of thousands of East Germans to cross into Austria and make their way to West Germany. Orban’s pusillanimous Hungary forgets how, in 1956, at the time of the Soviet invasion, about 200,000 Hungarians fled into Austria and found refuge and freedom in Western Europe.

This petty Hungary also chooses to ignore that, of all the blessings acquired by the former nations of the Soviet bloc when the division of Europe ended, freedom of movement was the most prized. It was secured, this gift, with the fall of a wall. Now Hungary erects one.

Hungary is not alone in its prejudice. The preference for Christian migrants (in small numbers), and equating of Muslims with inevitable menace, is marked across almost all the countries of Central and East Europe that were once part of the Soviet imperium. These states have not known the influx of post-colonial migrants that has changed several West European societies. Their Jews were almost all killed by the Nazis (with help from local accomplices). Their ethnic makeup was further homogenized through border shifts or mass expulsions (ethnic Germans out of postwar Poland). Their recent history has been of mass emigration in search of job opportunities in the West, not of immigration.

As Jacques Rupnik, a prominent French political scientist, wrote recently in Le Monde, “There is a widespread perception in the East of the Continent that the Western ‘multicultural’ model has failed.” The conviction in these countries is that “migration from the south today equals ‘Islamic suburbs’ tomorrow.”

Oh, Europe, cursed with too much history, thy name is forgetfulness. Thy truth is miscegenation. Thy imagined tribes are just that, an illusion belied by endless migration over centuries. Thy hope is new blood, for racial purity was the altar of thy repetitive self-mutilation. Thy duty is memory, thy covenant with thy children openness and unity, for they must live.

Yes, memory: If Europe cared to remember, it might recall that this is the largest migratory wave since the end of World War II, when millions moved West from Stalin’s totalitarianism. It might also recollect that this mass movement was the culmination of a war that emanated from one of the Continent’s great “civilizations,” Germany — a frenzied attempt to impose on the Continent an Aryan super-race and rid it of Jews, Gypsies and others designated by Hitler as subspecies.

Today, refugees clamor to get into Germany. It has said it expects 800,000 this year. Angela Merkel, the chancellor, raised in Germany’s East, has towered over other European leaders because her personal history clarifies the stakes. “If Europe fails on this question of refugees, its close association with the universal rights of citizens will be destroyed,” she said. And then, almost heretically: “German thoroughness is super, but right now what we need is German flexibility.”

Even German flexibility, an unlikely commodity, is not enough. This is a European crisis. At a time of fracture in the European Union — Greece and the euro, Britain and possible exit, rising rightist parties, Vladimir Putin’s threats — Europe has been reminded of its core purpose and singular achievement: the ruin and misery it rose from, the abandoned masses it housed, the unity it forged after division had cost so many lives.

The need today is for more unity, a coherent immigration policy among the 28 members, and renewal of the maligned European idea. As Laura Boldrini, speaker of the lower house of the Italian Parliament, put it to me: “When the Mediterranean is a cemetery, we need a Europe 2.0. Nobody can love this Europe today. It is time for a renewed push for a United States of Europe.”

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

So Jeb Bush is finally going after Donald Trump. Over the past couple of weeks the man who was supposed to be the front-runner has made a series of attacks on the man who is. Strange to say, however, Mr. Bush hasn’t focused on what’s truly vicious and absurd — viciously absurd? — about Mr. Trump’s platform, his implicit racism and his insistence that he would somehow round up 11 million undocumented immigrants and remove them from our soil.

Instead, Mr. Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong.

To see what I mean, consider what was at stake in the last presidential election, and how things turned out after Mitt Romney lost.

During the campaign, Mr. Romney accused President Obama of favoring redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, and the truth is that Mr. Obama’s re-election did mean a significant move in that direction. Taxes on the top 1 percent went up substantially in 2013, both because some of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire and because new taxes associated with Obamacare kicked in. And Obamacare itself, which provides a lot of aid to lower-income families, went into full effect at the beginning of 2014.

Conservatives were very clear about what would happen as a result. Raising taxes on “job creators,” they insisted, would destroy incentives. And they were absolutely certain that the Affordable Care Act would be a “job killer.”

So what actually happened? As of last month, the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, had fallen to 5.1 percent. For the record, Mr. Romney promised during the campaign that he would get unemployment down to 6 percent by the end of 2016. Also for the record, the current unemployment rate is lower than it ever got under Ronald Reagan. And the main reason unemployment has fallen so much is job growth in the private sector, which has added more than seven million workers since the end of 2012.

I’m not saying that everything is great in the U.S. economy, because it isn’t. There’s good reason to believe that we’re still a substantial distance from full employment, and while the number of jobs has grown a lot, wages haven’t. But the economy has nonetheless done far better than should have been possible if conservative orthodoxy had any truth to it. And now Mr. Trump is being accused of heresy for not accepting that failed orthodoxy?

So am I saying that Mr. Trump is better and more serious than he’s given credit for being? Not at all — he is exactly the ignorant blowhard he seems to be. It’s when it comes to his rivals that appearances can be deceiving. Some of them may come across as reasonable and thoughtful, but in reality they are anything but.

Mr. Bush, in particular, may pose as a reasonable, thoughtful type — credulous reporters even describe him as a policy wonk — but his actual economic platform, which relies on the magic of tax cuts to deliver a doubling of America’s growth rate, is pure supply-side voodoo.

And here’s what’s interesting: all indications are that Mr. Bush’s attacks on Mr. Trump are falling flat, because the Republican base doesn’t actually share the Republican establishment’s economic delusions.

The thing is, we didn’t really know that until Mr. Trump came along. The influence of big-money donors meant that nobody could make a serious play for the G.O.P. nomination without pledging allegiance to supply-side doctrine, and this allowed the establishment to imagine that ordinary voters shared its antipopulist creed. Indeed, Mr. Bush’s hapless attempt at a takedown suggests that his political team still doesn’t get it, and thinks that pointing out The Donald’s heresies will be enough to doom his campaign.

But Mr. Trump, who is self-financing, didn’t need to genuflect to the big money, and it turns out that the base doesn’t mind his heresies. This is a real revelation, which may have a lasting impact on our politics.

Again, I’m not making a case for Mr. Trump. There are lots of other politicians out there who also refuse to buy into right-wing economic nonsense, but who do so without proposing to scour the countryside in search of immigrants to deport, or to rip up our international economic agreements and start a trade war. The point, however, is that none of these reasonable politicians is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

Blow and Kristof

September 3, 2015

In “Ratcheting Up the Rhetoric” Mr. Blow says demanding police fairness, oversight and accountability isn’t the same as promoting police hatred or harm. Mr. Kristof, in “Payday for Ice Bucket Challenges Mocked Slacktivists,” says the fund-raising campaign that went viral last year contributed to what scientists say is a breakthrough in A.L.S. research.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Last week, Deputy Darren H. Goforth of the Harris County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department was executed at a gas station in a Houston suburb. It was a horrific scene.

As The New York Times reported, prosecutors said that a gunman approached Goforth from behind and “emptied his 15-round handgun into the back and the back of the head of the deputy, as witnesses watched in horror and surveillance cameras captured the shooting.”

Goforth was simply pumping gas.

His killing was shocking in its brazenness. Your heart sank for this man and his family. You wanted to make sense of something that seemed to make no sense. How could someone be so callous in the taking of a life?

And yet, there were no answers to be had.

The Harris County sheriff, Ron Hickman, admitted as much in a news conference: “We have not been able to extract any details regarding a motive at this point.”

But Hickman departed from proof and protocol to deliver a dangerous, unsupported political statement.

Hickman suggested that Goforth “was a target because he wore a uniform,” but offered no evidence of this.

Hickman said further: “At any point when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, coldblooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard ‘black lives matter.’ All lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and just say ‘lives matter,’ and take that to the bank.” Hickman offered no evidence that the shooting was connected to Black Lives Matter protesters.

The Harris County district attorney, Devon Anderson, said at the same news conference: “There are a few bad apples in every profession. That does not mean that there should be open warfare declared on law enforcement.”

Again, no evidence was offered that the killing was part of any “warfare” on law enforcement.

When a motive is discovered, the sheriff and district attorney may well be proved right, but you don’t make statements and then hope the facts support those statements. That’s operating in the inverse.

At this point, the “war on police” rhetoric is not only unsupported, it’s dangerous and reckless.

On one level, one might be able to understand the overheated language from these officials. A coworker had just lost his life in a brutal fashion. Emotions were high. The loss was still raw.

Furthermore, there was a protest over the weekend — which apparently took place after Goforth was shot — by a group of Black Lives Matter protesters at the Minnesota state fair in which some protesters were captured on video chanting, “Pigs in a blanket; fry ’em like bacon.” An organizer of that demonstration, Trahern Crews, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that the chant was chanted in a “playful” context as they joked back and forth with an officer monitoring the march.

That context is not at all apparent from the video. How you view this movement will inform how plausible you find the “playful” explanation. But whatever the context, I think we can all agree that at the very least, chants like that are ill advised in protests against police brutality. Many people took the chant literally, as a terrorist threat. And one can hardly blame them.

But many in the media who are hostile to the movement went even further, using the chant and Goforth’s tragic death as tools to support and promote a narrative that Black Lives Matter itself is a hate group that has declared war on the police, even though, at this point, there is no evidence whatsoever that the suspect, Shannon J. Miles, was affiliated with or influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement.

(We do know that Miles “spent four months in a mental hospital in 2012 after being declared incompetent to stand trial in an aggravated assault case,” according to The Houston Chronicle.)

The thing that many people have criticized the protesters for — exploiting a tragedy, rushing to judgment, putting narrative ahead of facts — was precisely what they did.

Over the weekend, the Fox News host Judge Jeanine Pirro asked her guest, Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. of Milwaukee County: “Is it open season on law enforcement in this country?”

Clarke responded, in part: “I said last December that war had been declared on the American police officer led by some high profile people, one of them coming out of the White House, and one coming out of the United States Department of Justice. And it’s open season right now. There’s no doubt about it.”

On Sunday, Harry Houck, Jr., a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired New York Police Department detective, said on the network that “of course there’s anti-police rhetoric out there, you know, based on lies and assumptions, helping to promote the assassination of police officers out there.” He cited the chant by the Minnesota protesters, then continued, “I put them on the same — on the same line as I would the Ku Klux Klan or Black Liberation Army.”

On Monday morning, a co-host of “Fox and Friends,” Elisabeth Hasselbeck, asked the conservative commentator Kevin Jackson:

“Kevin, why has the Black Lives Matter movement not been classified as a hate group? How much more has to go in this direction before someone actually labels it as such?”

The Fox News host Bill O’Reilly said on his show on Monday that Black Lives Matter was a hate group and declared: “I’m going to put them out of business.”

There seems to be a concerted effort to defame and damage Black Lives Matter, and one has to wonder why.

It is impossible to credibly make the case that Black Lives Matter as a movement is a hate group or that it advocates violence. Demanding police fairness, oversight and accountability isn’t the same as promoting police hatred or harm.

I actually believe that you have to peel back the vitriol to expose the fundamental, but unarticulated truth at the core of the opposition to this movement: It centers blackness in a country that “others” blackness. It elevates blackness in a country that devalues it. It prioritizes blackness in a country that marginalizes it.

It demands fairness from a society rife with — and built on! — inequity. It forces America to confront its flaws rather than wishing them away. It drags the racial caste system this country created out of the shadows and into the light.

Black Lives Matter makes America uncomfortable because it refuses to let America continue to lie to itself. It targets police brutality, but the police are simply agents of the state and the state is representative of the totality of America.

Discomfort with Black Lives Matter, is, on some level and to some degree, a discomfort with blackness itself. It’s not only about the merits of individual cases, it is also about the collective, ingrained sins of the system committed disproportionately, and by design, against people of color. The movement convicts this country of its crimes.

America has been engaged since its inception in a most gruesome enterprise: Like the mythological Cronus, it has been eating its children, the darker ones, and this movement demands — at least in one area, at least in one moment — that it atone for that abomination.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

When Americans were giddily drenching themselves with ice water during the “ice bucket challenge” a year ago, the cognoscenti rolled their eyes.

The aim of the ice bucket challenge was to raise money to combat A.L.S., also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative ailment that affects some 15,000 Americans and usually leads to death within five years. But commentators scoffed: One on declared it “problematic in almost every way.” Critics sniped that the challenge wasted water and cannibalized contributions to better causes that affect more people.

The ice bucket challenge was taken as emblematic of “slacktivism,” the derisive term for cheap ways to feel good without doing anything meaningful. Critics point to Internet campaigns, the Stop Kony movement and the ice bucket challenge as merely symbolic ways for young narcissists to preen without actually achieving any change.

But now we have evidence that the ice bucket challenge may have worked.

Scientists studying A.L.S. have reported a breakthrough that could lead to therapy, not just for A.L.S. but for other ailments, too. And they say the money raised in the ice bucket challenge was crucial.

The breakthrough, published in Science, was summarized thus: “TDP-43 repression of nonconserved cryptic exons is compromised in ALS-FTD.”

Got it?

Here’s a translation: The research focused on a protein called TDP-43 that in some circumstances is linked to cell death in the brain or spinal cord of patients. The scientists found that inserting a custom-designed protein allowed cells to return to normal.

“That becomes our therapeutic strategy,” said Philip Wong, a professor at Johns Hopkins University whose lab conducted the research. He said the research team was now testing gene therapy strategies in mice to see if these can halt A.L.S. symptoms.

If it works in mice, the following step would be to seek to conduct a clinical trial in humans, he said.

The researchers are also hoping the therapy will work for a common cause of mental deterioration, frontotemporal dementia, and for inclusion body myositis, a progressive disease that leads to muscle weakness.

Jonathan Ling, a Johns Hopkins scientist who was the lead author of the Science article, said the new work might also lead to a diagnostic test (though probably not a treatment) for Alzheimer’s. Ling said the research team was also working with experts on cancer and immunology to see if other proteins might perform similar roles as TDP-43, possibly leading to far broader implications.

The ice bucket challenge went viral in 2014, partly because it was so much fun to watch videos of celebrities or friends dumping ice water on their heads. Videos of people in the challenge have been watched more than 10 billion times on Facebook — more than once per person on the planet. (I was one of the 17 million who uploaded a video of my drenching to Facebook.)

The ALS Association says the ice bucket challenge raised $115 million in six weeks, and many participants have become repeat donors. Google also reports there were more searches for “A.L.S.” in 2014 than in the entire previous decade.

The research at Johns Hopkins on TDP-43 was already underway, but Wong says ice bucket money helped accelerate the work and allowed the team to conduct some high-risk, high-reward experiments that were critical to the outcome.

“The funding certainly facilitated the results we obtained,” he told me.

It’s true that slacktivism doesn’t always work. The online campaign to “bring back our girls” — the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram last year — raised attention, but the girls are still missing.

Likewise, Joseph Kony, the warlord, is still on the run despite the Stop Kony movement. But the United States and African countries directed more resources against Kony, and this has had a very significant effect: Killings by his group are down 90 percent since 2011.

So think of armchair activism as a gateway drug. It exposes people to causes and sometimes gets them hooked. And while it doesn’t always solve problems, it tends to build awareness of crises — a necessary but not sufficient step to getting them resolved.

In any case, armchair activism is preferable to armchair passivity.

With the ice bucket challenge, there’s little evidence of cannibalization that hurt other causes, and it seems to have been revolutionary for this one.

“Across the A.L.S. community, we are probably in our highest time of hope,” said Barbara Newhouse, president of the ALS Association.

So if you endured an ice dunking a year ago — or if you’re participating in the 2015 ice bucket challenge, now underway — there’s no need to apologize for having fun. Rather: Thank you!

Enough with the eye-rolling. Long live slacktivism!

Blow and Krugman

August 31, 2015

In “60 Years Later, Echoes of Emmett Till’s Killing” Mr. Blow says a savage beating of a 14-year-old Chicago boy is a sadly familiar story to today’s young black people.  Prof. Krugman, in “A Heckuva Job,” says that as some Republican candidates have shown, it’s not too difficult to fool many of the people for quite a long time.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Friday was the 60th anniversary of the savage killing of Emmett Till.

Till was a black 14-year-old Chicago boy who was visiting his great-uncle in Mississippi during the summer of 1955.

It is said that the boy said something to, and whistled at, a white woman.

This was a line not crossed in those parts in this country. As I wrote in June when Dylann Roof killed nine black people in a Charleston, S.C., church after complaining that black people are “raping our women”:

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

That thread seems altered but unbroken from Emmett’s time to ours.

In the wee hours of the night, two white men kidnapped Emmett from his family’s home, mercilessly beat him, took him to the banks of the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head, then tied the metal fan of a cotton gin around his neck with barbed wire and pushed him in.

When Emmett’s body was fished from the river three days later, it had already begun to decompose. He was unrecognizable. His body was identified because he was wearing a ring that had belonged to his father.

His body was sent back to Chicago for burial. His mother, Mamie, collapsed at the sight of the coffin, just two weeks after she kissed her son goodbye.

His mother insisted that the coffin be opened so that she could see her son.As she recalled: “I saw that his tongue was choked out. I noticed that the right eye was lying on midway his cheek. I noticed that his nose had been broken like somebody took a meat chopper and chopped his nose in several places. As I kept looking, I saw a hole, which I presumed was a bullet hole, and I could look through that hole and see daylight on the other side. And I wondered: Was it necessary to shoot him?”

His mother insisted on an open coffin so that everyone could see what had been done to her baby.

According to Devery S. Anderson’s book about Emmett published this month, the night of the wake alone, “between 10,000 and 50,000 people” filed past Emmett’s glass-covered coffin to gaze at what was left of his face.

A little over two weeks after Emmett was buried, the men who killed him were acquitted, after only 67 minutes of jury deliberations. One juror is said to have told a reporter that the deliberations wouldn’t have taken that long if the jurors hadn’t taken a break to drink a pop.

After the acquittal the killers kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures.

And unfortunately, Emmett’s case was far from the only one. As the law professors Margaret A. Burnham and Margaret M. Russell wrote in The Times last week, there are hundreds of “disappeared” black people in this country “who were victims of racial violence from 1930 to 1960.”

But Emmett became the most pivotal. His death was immeasurable in its effect on young black people at the time. It activated and mobilized them. That is not so dissimilar from today.

Jesse Jackson is credited with calling Emmett’s murder the “Big Bang” of the civil rights movement.

But in an interview published earlier this month, a University of Illinois professor, Christopher Benson, co-author of the 2003 book “Death of Innocence” about the case, made a more direct comparison:

“Before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, there was Emmett Till. This was the first ‘Black Lives Matter’ story. It is no wonder, then, that each time we read about another young unarmed black male being shot down in the street — unjustly — by an authority figure, there is the mention of Emmett’s name. What we come to see with the loss of Emmett is just what racism has cost us in this country. What it costs us still, in the loss of so many bright, gifted kids. Partly through untimely deaths. But also in the limited opportunities many have to excel, because of mass incarceration or even unwarranted tracking in schools.”

Benson continued:

“When we begin to see the Emmett Till story in this context, we realize that we all lose something to racism. And we see that we all have something to gain by overcoming the obstacles to full participation that still exist. So, Emmett Till is a vital American story.”

Yes, Emmett’s story is a vital American story, and it feels like an all-too-present one as we see this cycle repeating itself: young lives are lost, the body itself is desecrated or neglected, killers are acquitted or not even brought to trial, and the effects of the feelings of terror and injustice galvanize a generation of young people who have taken as much as they plan to take.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

There are many things we should remember about the events of late August and early September 2005, and the political fallout shouldn’t be near the top of the list. Still, the disaster in New Orleans did the Bush administration a great deal of damage — and conservatives have never stopped trying to take their revenge. Every time something has gone wrong on President Obama’s watch, critics have been quick to declare the event “Obama’s Katrina.” How many Katrinas has Mr. Obama had so far? By one count, 23.

Somehow, however, these putative Katrinas never end up having the political impact of the lethal debacle that unfolded a decade ago. Partly that’s because many of the alleged disasters weren’t disasters after all. For example, the teething problems of were embarrassing, but they were eventually resolved — without anyone dying in the process — and at this point Obamacare looks like a huge success.

Beyond that, Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn’t. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration’s cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.

What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they’re strong leaders. And that’s a lesson we’re learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.

You probably think I’m talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he’s not the only one.

Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency, in part because for a while his tough-guy act played so well with the people of New Jersey. But he has, in fact, been a terrible governor, who has presided over repeated credit downgrades, and who compromised New Jersey’s economic future by killing a much-needed rail tunnel project.

Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn’t changed, he’s just come into focus.

Or consider Jeb Bush, once hailed on the right as “the best governor in America,” when in fact all he did was have the good luck to hold office during a huge housing bubble. Many people now seem baffled by Mr. Bush’s inability to come up with coherent policy proposals, or any good rationale for his campaign. What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.

And there’s more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?

I know, now I’m supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren’t any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing.

True, some liberals were starry-eyed about Mr. Obama way back when, but the glitter faded fast, and what was left was a competent leader with some big achievements under his belt – most notably, an unprecedented drop in the number of Americans without health insurance. And Hillary Clinton is the subject of a sort of anti-cult of personality, whose most ordinary actions are portrayed as nefarious. (No, the email thing doesn’t rise to the level of a “scandal.”)

Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.

Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump’s continuing appeal to the party’s base. He’s a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don’t people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?

But Mr. Trump isn’t alone in talking policy nonsense. Trying to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants would be a logistical and human rights nightmare, but might conceivably be possible; doubling America’s rate of economic growth, as Jeb Bush has promised he would, is a complete fantasy.

And while Mr. Trump doesn’t exude presidential dignity, he’s seeking the nomination of a party that once considered it a great idea to put George W. Bush in a flight suit and have him land on an aircraft carrier.

The point is that those predicting Mr. Trump’s imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don’t count on it happening any time soon.

Blow, Cohen and Kristof

August 27, 2015

In “Enough Is Enough” Mr. Blow says that when people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.  Mr. Cohen, in “Middle Eastern Zen,” says don’t worry about the Middle East. Worry about China. The Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.  Mr. Kristof ponders “Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting” and says Wednesday’s killings provide further evidence of the need for more restrictive gun policies in the United States.  Which will happen, Nick, when pigs fly.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

When Donald Trump’s security escorted the Univision anchor Jorge Ramos out of a news conference on Tuesday, I decided that I was officially done.

Maybe I should have been long before that.

Maybe I should have been done the one and only time I ever met Trumpand his first words to me were a soliloquy about how black people loved him, and he was the most popular white man among black people.

Maybe I should have been done when Trump demanded to see the president’s birth certificate.

Maybe I should have been done any number of times over the years when Trump made any number of racist, sexist comments.

Earlier this month, Politico rounded up 199 of his greatest — and vilest — hits. Here are just a few from the magazine:

9. “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” (USA Today, May 20, 1991)

23. “Oftentimes when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, ‘Can you believe what I am getting?’ ” (“Think Big: Make it Happen in Business and Life,” 2008)

32. “… she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” (ABC’s “The View,” March 6, 2006)

35. “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” (Twitter, April 16, 2015)

117. “Rosie’s a person that’s very lucky to have her girlfriend. And she better be careful or I’ll send one of my friends over to pick up her girlfriend. Why would she stay with Rosie if she had another choice?” (“Entertainment Tonight,” Dec. 21, 2006)

121. Arianna Huffington is “a dog.” (Twitter, April 6, 2015)

Need I go on? (Thanks, Politico!)

Maybe I should have been done when Trump announced his candidacy this year with an attack on Mexican immigrants, saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best — they’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems … drugs … crime … rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Ramos episode wasn’t worse than these; it was just the last straw. A member of the media who dared to raise a truly substantive issue, even out of turn, was dismissed and removed. And yet the band played on. The live coverage continued. In that moment, I was disgusted at Trump’s contempt and the press’s complicity in the shallow farce that is his candidacy. Trump is addicted to press, but the press is also addicted to him, and the entire spectacle is wide and shallow.

(Ramos was allowed back in and permitted to ask his question. I had to see this later, because when he was ejected, I stopped watching.)

Yes, the Republican Party created this Frankenstein of hatred, hubris, narcissism and nativism, but the media is giving it life.

The never-ending, exhaustive, even breathless coverage of every outrage that issues forth from this man’s mouth is not news. Every offense and attack is not news.

Every morning that Trump rolls out of bed and calls in to a news show is not news.

Covering a political phenomenon as news is one thing. See the coverage of Bernie Sanders. Creating a political phenomenon and calling it news is quite another.

I reasoned in a 2010 column that Sarah Palin was no longer an elected official and wasn’t seeking elected office, and was therefore not worthy of constant attacks. But more important, the attacks were elevating her profile, not diminishing it. As I wrote:

“This is it. This is the last time I’m going to write the name Sarah Palin until she does something truly newsworthy, like declare herself a candidate for the presidency. Until then, I will no longer take part in the left’s obsessive-compulsive fascination with her, which is both unhealthy and counterproductive.”

I kept that promise. The only other time she appeared by name in one of my columns was in a passing reference to her speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013. This column is only the second reference.

The same is true of Trump. The constant harping on him only helps him.

He is different from Palin in 2010, however. He is not only running for office, he’s leading in the polls among Republican candidates. He can’t be ignored. But coverage is not the same as drooling over the daily shenanigans of a demagogue.

I will cover Trump as he addresses issues with specific policy prescriptions and details, like answers to the question Ramos asked.

Until then, this man is not worthy of the attention he’s garnering. We in the media have to own our part in this. We can’t say he’s not serious and then cover him in a way that actually demonstrates that we are not serious.

Is he an easy target for righteous criticism? Of course he is. But is he aware that criticism from the mainstream media is invaluable among certain segments of the political right? Of course he is. Is he also aware that he’s getting more free publicity for being outrageous than he would ever be willing to buy? Of course he is.

The media is being trolled on a massive scale and we look naïve and silly to have fallen for it, even if he draws readers and viewers. When people refer to the press as the fourth estate, it shouldn’t be confused with a Trump property.

Allow me to share one more of Trump’s quotes from Politico:

89. “My brand became more famous as I became more famous, and more opportunities presented themselves.” (, 2007)

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

In case the gyrations in global markets have you confused, here’s anupdated Middle Eastern primer that will make you feel better:

1) The United States invasion of Iraq in 2003 brought the Shiite majority to power, so advancing the interests of Shiite Iran, America’s enemy. It ousted the Sunnis, upsetting the Sunni-Shiite balance in the Middle East. This infuriated Sunni Saudi Arabia, America’s ally, in theory.

2) The wealthy Saudi royal family underwrites a conservative Wahhabi Islam whose teachings are fiercely anti-American (don’t ask about the Saudi-American alliance). The Saudis have backed Sunni Islamists in war-ravaged Syria against the country’s Iranian-backed despot, Bashar al-Assad, who is from the quasi-Shiite Alawite sect. This maneuver backfired. A barbaric, tech-savvy, knife-wielding Sunni group calling itself Islamic State swept across Syria and Iraq, beheading and raping and destroying great treasures in pursuit of a medieval caliphate that would stretch across territory including modern-day Saudi Arabia. Talk about unintended consequences! Meanwhile the Saudis have bankrolled the destruction of Sunni Islamists in Egypt. This other bad sort of Sunni extremist, known as the Muslim Brotherhood, committed the ultimate lèse-majesté of believing in the ballot box as a source of authority.

3) Sunni-Shiite tensions have become regional. Saudi Arabia and other gulf monarchies are now so convinced that the United States is pro-Shiite (read pro-Iran!), and so persuaded of Iran’s anti-Sunni imperial designs, that they have embarked on a bombing campaign in — you guessed it! — Yemen. The purported aim is to stop the Houthis, seen in Riyadh as Iranian proxies.

4) In the aftermath of the Arab Spring (see below) the main functioning, stable states in the Middle East are non-Arab: Israel, Turkey and Iran. Israel has been in a stop-go war with Arabs since 1948, but is most exercised about Iran, which is not Arab, not Sunni, not on its border and not nuclear armed (see below).

5) The old Middle Eastern order is in tatters. Post-Ottoman states that were not nations, with century-old borders drawn up by Europeans, have split along sectarian lines and made nonsense of those borders. A metastasizing jihadi ideology driven by hatred of Western modernity, colonialism and perceived decadence has proved of unquenchable appeal. An independent Kurdistan, omitted from the post-Ottoman order, is now pretty close to realization. Cocktail-party nugget: Kurds and Israelis are tight.

6) The Obama administration called Syria’s Assad toast without having the means to turn him into toast. This was a huge blunder. A void ensued. Nobody loves a void like a jihadi. Enter Islamic State. America is now in a half-war with Islamic State. Half-war is like half-pregnancy: an illusory impossibility. America is still casting around for palatable nonfundamentalist Syrian opposition groups — a fool’s errand. Syria is gone, baby, gone.

7) Saudi views are increasingly identical to Israeli views (don’t sweat the details), especially on Iran. Wahhabi Islam, however, views Zionism as its implacable enemy. Hence identity of view does not translate into diplomatic rapprochement.

8) The Middle East has a longstanding cottage industry called the peace process. Palestinians are represented by the Palestinian Authority, an authority that has no authority over Palestinians in Gaza, no democratic legitimacy, no obvious claim to represent anything but itself, and no determination to change the status quo. Israel has a right-wing government with no interest in peace and every interest in quashing the very notion of Palestinian statehood — even of Palestinians themselves! The status quo suits Israel, although it involves intermittent small wars.

9) Israel has a nuclear deterrent. The United States and Israel have agreed never to talk about the Jewish state’s alleged nuclear weapons (again, don’t ask).

10) Several despots were swept out in the Arab Spring in 2011. But instead of bringing empowerment and agency through new forms of citizenship, the revolutions folded into sectarianism. Sectarianism means favoring your own and brutalizing the rest (see Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, etc.).

11) Iran is a theocracy split between hard-liners and reformists. The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have reached a nuclear accord with Iran. It has stopped Iran’s nuclear program in its tracks. It is, on balance, the most effective way to keep Iran from a bomb. Still, every Republican member of Congress opposes the deal. They believe the White House, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany are all deluded and they know better! Yep, they do. Plunging oil prices and America’s energy revolution have opened new strategic possibilities in the Middle East. The nuclear deal, too, could in time open new avenues for America to pursue its Middle Eastern interests. A region of recast alliances is anathema to status quo powers like Israel and the Sunni monarchies.

12) Got it? If not, don’t worry. Be Zen. There’s only so much anyone can worry about. Focus on China for now. My guess is the Middle East (unlike a large chunk of your portfolio) will still be around tomorrow.

And last but not least here’s Mr. Kristof:

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages ofregulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.

This approach has been stunningly successful. By my calculations, if we had the same auto fatality rate as in 1921, we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually from cars. We have reduced the fatality rate by more than 95 percent.

Yet in the case of firearms, the gun lobby (enabled by craven politicians) has for years tried to block even research on how to reduce gun deaths. The gun industry made a childproof gun back in the 19th century but today has ferociously resisted “smart guns.” If someone steals an iPhone, it requires a PIN; guns don’t.

We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths in America. But a serious effort might reduce gun deaths by, say, one-third, and that would be 11,000 lives saved a year.

The United States is an outlier, both in our lack of serious policies toward guns and in our mortality rates. Professor Hemenway calculates that the U.S. firearm homicide rate is seven times that of the next country in the rich world on the list, Canada, and 600 times higher than that of South Korea.

We need universal background checks with more rigorous screening, limits on gun purchases to one a month to reduce trafficking, safe storage requirements, serial number markings that are more difficult to obliterate, waiting periods to buy a handgun — and more research on what steps would actually save lives. If the federal government won’t act, states should lead.

Australia is a model. In 1996, after a mass shooting there, the country united behind tougher firearm restrictions. The Journal of Public Health Policy notes that the firearm suicide rate dropped by half in Australia over the next seven years, and the firearm homicide rate was almost halved.

Here in America, we can similarly move from passive horror to take steps to reduce the 92 lives claimed by gun violence in the United States daily. Surely we can regulate guns as seriously as we do cars, ladders and swimming pools.

When there’s bacon in the branches…


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