Archive for the ‘Blow’ Category

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

April 28, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enten explained:

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

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

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

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

Either way, the cause lives.

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

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

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

Next up we have Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Ms. Collins:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe all of the above. The man evolves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Krugman

April 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will the real demagogue please stand up!

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

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

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

Maybe. Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Kristof

April 21, 2016

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

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

As The Upshot’s Nate Cohn put it:

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

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

And yet Sanders soldiers on, as is his right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now here’s Mr. Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blow and Krugman

April 18, 2016

In “Sanders Dismisses the Deep South” Mr. Blow says the candidate’s comments on the region’s importance would not help his chances in a general election.  Prof. Krugman, in “Robber Baron Recessions,” says studies have confirmed a decline in business competition, as the government turned away from anti-monopoly efforts.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders had an odd, and for me, unsettling comment at the Democratic debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night.

When CNN’s Dana Bash asked if he planned to take his nomination fight to the Democratic convention if Hillary Clinton does not clinch the nomination with pledged delegates alone, Sanders responded:

“Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That’s the fact. But you know what? We’re out of the Deep South now. And we’re moving up.”

He went on to tout having won seven of the last eight caucuses and primaries. (In fact, of those seven, all except Wisconsin were caucuses, which are undemocratic in their own right.)

This wasn’t the first time in recent days that Sanders said something about voters in the Deep South that landed on my ear as belittling and dismissive.

When asked by Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show whether he thought the primary system was rigged, Sanders responded: “Well, one can argue — people say, Why does Iowa go first? Why does New Hampshire go first? — but I think that having so many Southern states go first kind of distorts reality as well.”

And before that, when This Week host George Stephanopoulos pointed out to Sanders that Clinton was getting more votes than him, Sanders shot back: “Well, she’s getting more votes. A lot of that came from the South.”

This regional ridicule is a bad play for Sanders.

First, it’s not clear which states Sanders is including in the “Deep South,” a phrase whose meaning is hard to pin down. As a son of the “Deep South” myself, I will assume the list often used: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

But Sanders has not only lost the “Deep South”; with the exception of Oklahoma, he’s lost the South as a whole.

It also must be pointed out that there is a racial dimension to Sanders’ dismissal, however inadvertent it is.

In general, the Southern states that Sanders says “distort reality” have some of the highest percentages of African-Americans in the country. The recent states he’s won, and on which he bases his claim of momentum, have some of the lowest percentages of African-Americans in the country. In each of the Deep South states for which there was exit poll data, black voters were the majority of Democratic primary voters. (There were no exit polls in Louisiana. The only state that had exit polls of the seven Sanders recently won was Wisconsin, where black voters represented 10 percent of primary voters in the state.)

Furthermore, as Nate Silver put it Friday, “Clinton has won or is favored to win almost every state where the turnout demographics strongly resemble those of Democrats as a whole.”

Now as for Sanders’s claim that the Deep South is the most conservative part of the country, one could argue that many of the other Southern states, as well as many of the states recently won by Sanders, are conservative in their own right.

It is true that blacks in general can be just as conservative as Republicans on some moral issues. But blacks tend to be quite liberal on the question of the size and role of the government. For instance, a 2012 Pew Research Center report found that “78 percent of blacks support government guarantees of food and shelter, compared with 52 percent of whites.” That position should have meshed well with Sanders’s expansive ideas.

As for the seven states Sanders won, four haven’t voted for the Democratic candidate in a general election since they went for Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

The only Southern state that has had that long of a drought for Democrats is Oklahoma — yes, the one southern state that Sanders won.

Furthermore, in 2012 The New York Times listed three of those southern states Clinton won — Florida, Virginia and North Carolina — as swing states, and only one of the recent states Sanders has won — Wisconsin.

Sanders simply has to own the fact that he didn’t sell his message well in the South, and those voters never warmed to his vision or his ability to execute it.

But he still needs to embrace and excite those voters should he become the nominee. He would need them for his much-ballyhooed political revolution. They will have to show up and flip Senate and House seats as well as governorships and control of statehouses.

One thing that the Affordable Care Act taught us is just how obstinate and obstructionist state officials can be and how their opposition to federal policies can hamper the full implementation of any law.

For instance, it wasn’t until Louisiana voters replaced the Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, with the Democrat John Bel Edwards that the state finally expanded Medicaid and thereby expanded health coverage to hundreds of thousand of people in the state.

That’s how revolutions work: From the ground up, in unlikely places and against the odds. A revolution is not evidenced by your success in territory you already control, but in territory that you don’t.

Sanders must abandon this “Deep South” talking point immediately. He’s better than this, and he should know better.

Apparently now stating demographic facts is a sin…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

When Verizon workers went on strike last week, they were mainly protesting efforts to outsource work to low-wage, non-union contractors. But they were also angry about the company’s unwillingness to invest in its own business. In particular, Verizon has shown a remarkable lack of interest in expanding its Fios high-speed Internet network, despite strong demand.

But why doesn’t Verizon want to invest? Probably because it doesn’t have to: many customers have no place else to go, so the company can treat its broadband business as a cash cow, with no need to spend money on providing better service (or, speaking from personal experience, on maintaining existing service).

And Verizon’s case isn’t unique. In recent years many economists, including people like Larry Summers and yours truly, have come to the conclusion that growing monopoly power is a big problem for the U.S. economy — and not just because it raises profits at the expense of wages. Verizon-type stories, in which lack of competition reduces the incentive to invest, may contribute to persistent economic weakness.

The argument begins with a seeming paradox about overall corporate behavior. You see, profits are at near-record highs, thanks to a substantial decline in the percentage of G.D.P. going to workers. You might think that these high profits imply high rates of return to investment. But corporations themselves clearly don’t see it that way: their investment in plant, equipment, and technology (as opposed to mergers and acquisitions) hasn’t taken off, even though they can raise money, whether by issuing bonds or by selling stocks, more cheaply than ever before.

How can this paradox be resolved? Well, suppose that those high corporate profits don’t represent returns on investment, but instead mainly reflect growing monopoly power. In that case many corporations would be in the position I just described: able to milk their businesses for cash, but with little reason to spend money on expanding capacity or improving service. The result would be what we see: an economy with high profits but low investment, even in the face of very low interest rates and high stock prices.

And such an economy wouldn’t just be one in which workers don’t share the benefits of rising productivity; it would also tend to have trouble achieving or sustaining full employment. Why? Because when investment is weak despite low interest rates, the Federal Reserve will too often find its efforts to fight recessions coming up short. So lack of competition can contribute to “secular stagnation” — that awkwardly-named but serious condition in which an economy tends to be depressed much or even most of the time, feeling prosperous only when spending is boosted by unsustainable asset or credit bubbles. If that sounds to you like the story of the U.S. economy since the 1990s, join the club.

There are, then, good reasons to believe that reduced competition and increased monopoly power are very bad for the economy. But do we have direct evidence that such a decline in competition has actually happened? Yes, say a number of recent studies, including one just released by theWhite House. For example, in many industries the combined market share of the top four firms, a traditional measure used in many antitrust studies, has gone up over time.

The obvious next question is why competition has declined. The answer can be summed up in two words: Ronald Reagan.

For Reagan didn’t just cut taxes and deregulate banks; his administration also turned sharply away from the longstanding U.S. tradition of reining in companies that become too dominant in their industries. A new doctrine, emphasizing the supposed efficiency gains from corporate consolidation, led to what those who have studied the issue often describe as the virtual end of antitrust enforcement.

True, there was a limited revival of anti-monopoly efforts during the Clinton years, but these went away again under George W. Bush. The result was an economy with far too much concentration of economic power. And the Obama administration — preoccupied with the aftermath of financial crisis and the struggle with bitterly hostile Republicans — has only recently been in a position to grapple with competition policy.

Still, better late than never. On Friday the White House issued an executive order directing federal agencies to use whatever authority they have to “promote competition.” What this means in practice isn’t clear, at least to me. But it may mark a turning point in governing philosophy, which could have large consequences if Democrats hold the presidency.

For we aren’t just living in a second Gilded Age, we’re also living in a second robber baron era. And only one party seems bothered by either of those observations.

Blow, Cohen, and Kristof

April 14, 2016

In “Campaigns of Ultimate Disappointment” Mr. Blow says this country wasn’t designed to facilitate change. It took centuries to arrive at its current condition and will need time to shift away from it.  Mr. Cohen is wringing his hands and weeping over “The Death of Liberalism.”  He moans that authoritarianism is ascendant and with it anti-rational bigotry. History does not end. It eddies, he says.  Mr. Kristof reminds us of the glaringly obvious in “The Real Welfare Cheats.”  He says the tax code is rigged to give America’s biggest corporations a free ride.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I’m already completely exhausted by this presidential campaign season. The candidates seem to share that fatigue. Nerves are fraying as story lines grow stale.

There is the demagogic, megalomaniac Republican front-runner who simply appears to be winging it, just as surprised as the rest of us that he has duped enough people to position himself to have a strong chance of securing the nomination.

There is Ted Cruz, a power-hungry extremist who never learned how to play well with others, who wears other folks’ hatred of him as a badge (or many badges), and whose policies in many cases are even more strident and worrisome than those of the front-runner.

There is John Kasich, the mealy-mouthed “other option” who won only one state — his own — and whose primary pitch is that he is not the front-runner or Cruz and therefore stands the greatest chance of beating the eventual Democratic nominee.

Speaking of Democratic nominees: You have Hillary Clinton, whose greatest strength is pragmatic reality — a message that doesn’t exactly sizzle — and whose saving grace is strong support from minorities, without which her candidacy would have long ago tanked. And yet she is surrounded by people, like her husband, who seem to be working assiduously to damage that minority support. Just last week, Bill Clinton launched into an awkward, rambling defense of the 1994 crime bill and his wife’s use of the term “superpredator.” This week her supporter Bill de Blasio, New York City’s mayor, made a cringe-worthy joke (with which she happily played along!) about running on “C.P. time,” which I have always understood to be “colored-people’s time,” a corrosive stereotype of the perpetual lateness of black people.

And then there’s Bernie Sanders, the pied piper of pipe dreams, who articulates a noble set of principles but outlines unworkable and, in some cases, outlandish policies that will never see the light of day with the next Congress, which is not likely to be dissimilar from the existing Congress. The New York Daily News was brutal in its endorsement of Clinton this week: the paper’s editorial board referred to Sanders as “a fantasist who’s at passionate war with reality” who has “proved utterly unprepared for the Oval Office while confirming that the central thrusts of his campaign are politically impossible.” Ouch.

And the truth is that very little about this race has changed in the last month, though some might argue that Cruz has a gust of wind in his sails and Sanders’s string of recent victories is impressive. But what largely gives the appearance of change is that contests have been held in states that favor a particular candidate over others. This gives the impression of momentum, when in fact it is simply a function of the map.

The basic foundation of support remains relatively unchanged, and if those dynamics persist until all the contests have been completed, simple math tell us that the front-runners now will be the front-runners then.

We are just watching cars crash in slow motion.

That’s boring. There is a tremendous political media infrastructure whose job it is to make this sound like it’s still interesting, fascinating even, but it’s just not. It’s boring.

It won’t truly be interesting again, at least not for me, until we reach the potential chaos of the conventions, and after that, move into the general election, where the contrasts in visions for the future of this country will likely be as stark as they’ve ever been.

But that said, this whole political season seems to me rife with profound disappointment. Too many people are making too many big promises that they know full well they can’t deliver, but the individual voters believe that they can and the media establishment is doing far too little to disabuse voters of those notions.

Last month the president spoke at the Toner journalism prize ceremony, saying:

A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question, and to dig deeper, and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.[Applause.] And there are reporters here who know they can’t keep them. I know that’s a shocking concept that politicians would do that. But without a press that asks tough questions, voters take them at their word. When people put their faith in someone who can’t possibly deliver on his or her promises, that only breeds more cynicism.

I fear that the cynicism the president describes is inevitable because this country, in its founding documents, wasn’t designed to easily facilitate change, let alone revolutionary change.

It took centuries for this country to arrive at its current condition and will take time to shift away from it.

That isn’t what people want to hear in an anti-establishment, revolutionary change cycle, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

I fear that we are going to move from the race’s current banality to an eventual, and most assured, sense of betrayal in which armies of voters see promises of radical change come crashing to earth. That to me is unfortunate and even frightening.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Liberalism is dead. Or at least it is on the ropes. Triumphant a quarter-century ago, when liberal democracy appeared to have prevailed definitively over the totalitarian utopias that exacted such a toll in blood, it is now under siege from without and within.

Nationalism and authoritarianism, reinforced by technology, have come together to exercise new forms of control and manipulation over human beings whose susceptibility to greed, prejudice, ignorance, domination, subservience and fear was not, after all, swept away by the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As Communism fell, and closed societies were forced open, and an age of rapid globalization dawned, and the United States earned the moniker of “hyperpower,” it seemed reasonable to believe, as Francis Fukuyama argued in 1989, that, “The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.” Therefore, per Fukuyama, the end point of history had been reached with “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This was a rational argument. It made sense. Hundreds of millions of people enslaved within the Soviet imperium had just been freed. They knew — everyone knew — which system worked better. The problem is that the hold of reason in human affairs is always tenuous.

Looking back at human history, the liberal democratic experiment – with its Enlightenment-derived belief in the capacity of individuals possessed of certain inalienable rights to shape their destinies in liberty through the exercise of their will — is but a brief interlude. Far more lasting have been the eras of infallible sovereignty, absolute power derived from God, domination and serfdom, and subjection to what Isaiah Berlin called “the forces of anti-rational mystical bigotry.”

Such anti-rational forces are everywhere these days — in Donald Trump’s America, in Marine Le Pen’s France, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, throughout much of the Middle East, in North Korea. Representative government under the rule of law has proved to be insipid fare for an age that traffics in heady images of power and violence through solipsistic social media and online games.

Berlin, well before Fukuyama, identified a potential weakness of liberalism. In “The Crooked Timber of Humanity,” he wrote: “A liberal sermon which recommends machinery designed to prevent people from doing each other too much harm, giving each human group sufficient room to realize its own idiosyncratic, unique, particular ends without too much interference with the ends of others, is not a passionate battle-cry to inspire men to sacrifice and martyrdom and heroic feats.”

No, but as the framers of the U.S. Constitution knew, machinery of such liberal inspiration is the best hope to afford citizens a lasting defense against tyranny.

Liberty, however, requires certain things. Liberalism demands acceptance of our human differences and the ability to mediate them through democratic institutions. It demands acceptance of multiple, perhaps incompatible truths. In an age of declamation and shouting, of polarization and vilification, of politics-for-sale and the insidious submersion of politics in fact-lite entertainment, the emergence of Trump is as unsurprising as it is menacing.

No wonder Putin admires him. Russian authoritarianism is all about the muscular trappings of power and popular adulation cultivated through fawning media for a Czar-like figure. Berlin noted there was “some truth” to the conservative writer Joseph de Maistre’s view that “the desire to immolate oneself, to suffer, to prostrate oneself before authority, indeed before superior power, no matter whence it comes, and the desire to dominate, to exert authority, to pursue power for its own sake” are forces that are “historically at least as strong as desire for peace, prosperity, liberty, justice, happiness, equality.”

And so history does not end. It eddies back and forth.

The broad failure of the Arab Awakening — the greatest liberation movement since 1989, an attempt by Arab peoples to empower themselves — had many causes, but a central one was the absence of any liberal constituency in societies from Egypt to Libya. Even a country with a large middle class like Egypt was not ready to accept the mediation of multiple truths through democratic institutions. So power went back to the generals, and the Islamists — even the moderates among them — were condemned to prison or worse.

In Russia, and now in countries from Hungary to Poland, and in China, forms of authoritarianism are ascendant and liberalism (or even modest liberalization) are in retreat. In the Middle East, the Islamic State casts its long, digitized shadow. In Western societies beset by growing inequality (neo-liberal economics has also sapped the credentials of liberalism), political discourse, debate on college campuses and ranting on social media all reflect a new impatience with multiple truths, a new intolerance and unwillingness to make the compromises that permit liberal democracy to work.

The threat for liberal Western societies is within and without. Liberalism may be feeble as a battle cry, but nothing is more important for human dignity and decency.

Geez, Roger… Take a pill, or get a stiff drink…  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.

A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

The study was compiled by Oxfam and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.

O.K., O.K., I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?

But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.

John Oliver has a point when he says, “If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.” The beneficiaries of tax distortions are counting on you to fall asleep, but this is a topic as important as it is dry.

It’s because the issues seem arcane that corporate lobbyists get away with murder. The Oxfam report says that each $1 the biggest companies spent on lobbying was associated with $130 in tax breaks and more than $4,000 in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

And why would a humanitarian nonprofit like Oxfam spend its time poring over offshore accounts and tax dodges? “The global economic system is becoming increasingly rigged” in ways that exacerbate inequality, laments Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America.

One academic study found that tax dodging by major corporations costs the U.S. Treasury up to $111 billion a year. By my math, less than one-fifth of that annually would be more than enough to pay the additional costs of full-day prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in America ($15 billion), prevent lead poisoning in tens of thousands of children ($2 billion), provide books and parent coaching for at-risk kids across the country ($1 billion) and end family homelessness ($2 billion).

The Panama Papers should be a wake-up call, shining a light on dysfunctional tax codes around the world — but much of the problem has been staring us in the face. Among the 500 corporations in the S.&P. 500-stock index, 27 were both profitable in 2015 and paid no net income taxglobally, according to an analysis by USA Today.

Those poor companies! Think how the character of those C.E.O.s must be corroding! And imagine the plunging morale as board members realize that they are “takers” not “makers.”

American companies game the system in many ways, including shifting profits to overseas tax havens. In 2012, American companies reported more profit in low-tax Bermuda than in Japan, China, Germany and France combined, even though their employees in Bermuda account for less than one-tenth of 1 percent of their worldwide totals.

Over all, the share of corporate taxation in federal revenue has declined since 1952 from 32 percent to 11 percent. In that same period, the portion coming from payroll taxes, which hit the working poor, has climbed.

Look, the period of the Oxfam study included the auto and banking bailouts, which were good for America (and the loans were repaid); it’s also true that the official 35 percent corporate tax rate in the U.S. is too high, encouraging dodging strategies. But we have created perverse incentives: C.E.O.s have a responsibility to shareholders to make money, and tax dodging accomplishes that. This isn’t individual crookedness but an entire political/economic system that induces companies to rip off fellow citizens quite legally.

It’s now widely recognized that corporations have manipulated the tax code. The U.S. Treasury, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, theEuropean Union and professional economic journals are all trying to respond to issues of tax evasion.

Bravo to the Obama administration for cracking down on corporations that try to move abroad to get out of taxes. Congress should now pass the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act, and it should stop slashing the I.R.S. budget (by 17 percent in real terms over the last six years).

When congressional Republicans like Ted Cruz denounce the I.R.S., they empower corporate tax cheats. Because of I.R.S. cuts, the amount of time revenue agents spend auditing large companies has fallen by 34 percent since 2010. A Syracuse University analysis finds that the lost revenue from the decline in corporate audits may be as much as $15 billion a year — enough to make full-day pre-K universal.

Meanwhile, no need to fret so much about welfare abuse in the inner city. The big problem of welfare dependency in America now involves entitled corporations. So let’s help those moochers in business suits pick themselves up and stop sponging off the government.

Blow and Krugman

April 4, 2016

In “The (Un)Democratic Party” Mr. Blow says superdelegates and caucuses contribute to the skewed political structure of the party.  Prof. Krugman, in “Cities for Everyone” says in New York, some are trying to do something about spreading the new urban bounty.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There are two prominent features of the Democratic Party’s presidential selection process that are thoroughly undemocratic and undermine faith in the party: superdelegates (which favor Hillary Clinton) and caucuses (which favor Bernie Sanders).

As the New York Times editorial board explained: “Superdelegates are party bigwigs — 712 Democratic leaders, legislators, governors and the like. They can vote for any candidate at the nominating convention, regardless of whether that candidate won the popular vote. These unpledged delegates make up 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates whose votes are needed to win the nomination, and could thus make all the difference.”

Let’s start there. Superdelegates, whose votes are not bound by the millions of individual voters, make up nearly a third of all delegates. That, on its face, is outrageous.

It’s no surprise that superdelegates were created by establishment elites to increases their own power. Superdelegates were invented by a Democratic rule change in the early 1980s after the nomination of George McGovern in 1972 and the devastating loss of Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980, precisely to help the establishment prevent the nomination of insurgent candidates of whom the establishment disapproved. (Sanders is nothing if not an insurgent candidate.)

As The New York Times reported in 1981: “Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, who heads the latest Democratic rule-changing group, an unwieldy, 29-member agglomeration of the innocent and the experienced, describes its task as one of writing ‘rules that will help us choose a nominee who can win and who, having won, can govern effectively.’”

The article continued: “Much of this year’s deliberations have seemed infused with a desire to deny future nominations to political reincarnations of the Jimmy Carter of 1976.”

So today we have an establishment structure that equates a single establishment vote with thousands of citizen votes.

As Tom Foreman wrote for CNN.com in 2008 when the role of superdelegates was also being hotly debated: “A few decades ago, Democratic leaders felt that sometimes, Democratic voters were choosing poor presidential candidates: campaigners who couldn’t win elections, or even if they could, they didn’t please Democratic kingmakers.”

This system is unjust, in part because those superdelegates are not prohibited from declaring their loyalty before voting has ended. At the very least, they should be barred from committing before voting is completed in their own states.

Without this prohibition, the establishment puts its thumb on the scale and signals its approval and disapproval ahead of Democratic voters. How can this be defended?

This cycle, nearly three months before a single vote was cast, The Associated Press found that at least half of all those superdelegates (359) had already committed to supporting Clinton. Only eight had committed to supporting Sanders. Clinton’s popularity among superdelegates has only continued to rise. This is not to say that superdelegates can’t switch allegiances, but the initial, premature declarations are the real problem.

Then, there are the caucuses.

As Zachary Roth wrote for MSNBC ahead of the Iowa caucuses: “The tightly limited hours are perhaps the most glaring problem — especially at a time when Democrats are emphasizing the importance of expanding access to voting, and are responding to the needs of working people.”

He continued: “The restricted hours are increasingly out of step not only with the direction of the Democratic Party, but also with broader economic trends. Many of those who will be shut out are likely to be low-wage workers, who typically have little control over their schedules.”

This says nothing of the burden caucuses put on families without child care, students and senior citizens.

It’s the height of irony that the caucuses have favored Sanders, the candidate promising to decrease income inequality and fight for higher wages.

So far, the Democrats have held 21 primaries, including Democrats abroad, and 14 caucuses in the states and the territories. Clinton won 16 primaries but just four caucuses, while Sanders won 10 caucuses but just five primaries. For context, Democrats will have a total of 19 caucuses in the states and the territories, while the Republicans have only 13. (North Dakota doesn’t hold a caucus or a primary, while Colorado and Wyoming hold only informal caucuses, where constituents vote for delegates, not candidates.)

Furthermore, caucuses dispense with the privacy and anonymity of the voting booth and have the potential to inject an element of peer pressure into the democratic process. People should be free to vote with their conscience — and in private! — and feel no pressure whatsoever to bend to the consensus of the community.

Indeed, the Boston Globe editorial page argued for the elimination of caucuses last month, saying: “In a caucus, voters who aren’t physically able to sit in a school gymnasium and debate the merits of their candidate with their neighbors get shut out. And obscure rules that vary from state to state governing delegate allotment and proxy balloting make for confusing inconsistencies when tallying results.”

For a Democratic Party that prides itself on the grand ideals of inclusion and fairness, the nominating process is anything but.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Ted Cruz tried to take Donald Trump down by accusing him of having “New York values”? It didn’t work, of course, mainly because it addressed the wrong form of hatred. Mr. Cruz was trying to associate his rival with social liberalism — but among Republican voters distaste for, say, gay marriage runs a distant second to racial enmity, which the Trump campaign is catering to quite nicely, thank you.

But there was another reason associating Mr. Trump with New York was ineffective: Old-fashioned anti-urban rants don’t fit with the realities of modern American urbanism. Time was when big cities could be portrayed as arenas of dystopian social collapse, of rampant crime and drug addiction. These days, however, we’re experiencing an urban renaissance. New York, in particular, has arguably never been a more desirable place to live – if you can afford it.

Unfortunately, ever fewer people can. That’s the bad news. The good news is that New York’s government is trying to do something about it.

So, about affordability: In the first quarter of this year, the average apartment sold in Manhattan cost more than $2 million. That number will come down a bit. In fact, the buying frenzy has already cooled off. Still, such numbers are an indicator of a housing market that has moved out of the reach of ordinary working families. True, prices slumped during the national housing bust of 2006-2009, but then they began rising again, far outpacing gains in family income. And similar stories have been unfolding in many of our major cities.

The result, predictably, is that the urban renaissance is very much a class-based story. Upper-income Americans are moving into high-density areas, where they can benefit from city amenities; lower-income families are moving out of such areas, presumably because they can’t afford the real estate.

You may be tempted to say, so what else is new? Urban life has become desirable again, urban dwellings are in limited supply, so wouldn’t you expect the affluent to outbid the rest and move in? Why aren’t urban apartments like beachfront lots, which also tend to be occupied by the rich?

But living in the city isn’t like living on the beach, because the shortage of urban dwellings is mainly artificial. Our big cities, even New York, could comfortably hold quite a few more families than they do. The reason they don’t is that rules and regulations block construction. Limits on building height, in particular, prevent us from making more use of the most efficient public transit system yet invented – the elevator.

Now, I’m not calling for an end to urban zoning. Cities are rife with spillovers, positive and negative. My tall building may cut off your sunlight; on the other hand, it may help sustain the density needed to support local stores, or for that matter a whole city’s economic base. There’s no reason to believe that completely unregulated building would get the balance right.

But building policies in our major cities, especially on the coasts, are almost surely too restrictive. And that restrictiveness brings major economic costs. At a national level, workers are on average moving, not to regions that offer higher wages, but to low-wage areas that also have cheap housing. That makes America as a whole poorer than it would be if workers moved freely to their most productive locations, with some estimates of the lost income running as high as 10 percent.

Furthermore, within metropolitan areas, restrictions on new housing push workers away from the center, forcing them to engage in longer commutes and creating more traffic congestion.

So there’s a very strong case for allowing more building in our big cities. The question is, how can higher density be sold politically? The answer, surely, is to package a loosening of building restrictions with other measures. Which is why what’s happening in New York is so interesting.

In brief, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed through a program that would selectively loosen rules on density, height, and parking as long as developers include affordable and senior housing. Th

e idea is, in effect, to accommodate the rising demand of affluent families for an urban lifestyle, but to harness that demand on behalf of making the city affordable for lower-income families too.

Not everyone likes this plan. Sure enough, there were noisy protests at the City Council meeting that approved the measure. And it will be years before we know how well it has worked. But it’s a smart attempt to address the issue, in a way that could, among other things, at least slightly mitigate inequality.

And may I say how refreshing it is, in this ghastly year, to see a politician trying to offer real solutions to real problems? If this is an example of New York values in action, we need more of them.

Blow, Kristof, and Collins

March 31, 2016

Mr. Blow says that “‘Bernie or Bust’ Is Bonkers,” and that elections are not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one. Sometimes they’re between common sense and catastrophe.  Mr. Kristof considers “Trump and Abortion” and comes to the conclusion that he’s poorly informed even on his own position.  In “The Republican Gun-Free Zone” Ms. Collins says if you want to be safe from being shot by a well-armed Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, go to the G.O.P.’s convention.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Bernie Sanders’s surrogate Susan Sarandon went on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” earlier this week and said something that made folks’ jaws drop.

When Hayes asked Sarandon whether Sanders’s supporters would vote for Hillary Clinton if Clinton won the Democratic nomination, this exchange followed:

SARANDON: I think Bernie probably would encourage people because he doesn’t have any ego. I think a lot of people are, sorry, I can’t bring myself to do that.

HAYES: How about you personally?

SARANDON: I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens.

HAYES: Really?

SARANDON: Really.

HAYES: I cannot believe as you’re watching the, if Donald Trump…

SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately if he gets in then things will really, you know, explode.

HAYES: You’re saying the Leninist model of…

SARANDON: Some people feel that.

(I don’t generally use the Republican front-runner’s name in my columns, but I must present the quote as transcribed. Sorry.)

What was Sarandon talking about with her coy language? “Bring the revolution”? Exactly what kind of revolution? “Explode”? Was the purpose to present this as a difficult but ultimately positive development?

The comments smacked of petulance and privilege.

No member of an American minority group — whether ethnic, racial, queer-identified, immigrant, refugee or poor — would (or should) assume the luxury of uttering such a imbecilic phrase, filled with lust for doom.

But I don’t doubt that she has met “some people” with a Bernie-or-bust, scorched-earth electoral portentousness. As The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll indicates one third of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ supporters cannot see themselves voting for Hillary Clinton in November.”

Be absolutely clear: While there are meaningful differences between Clinton and Sanders, either would be a far better choice for president than any of the remaining Republican contenders, especially the demagogic real estate developer. Assisting or allowing his ascendance by electoral abstinence in order to force a “revolution” is heretical.

This position is dangerous, shortsighted and self-immolating.

If Sanders wins the nomination, liberals should rally round him. Conversely, if Clinton does, they should rally round her.

This is not a game. The presidency, particularly the next one, matters, and elections can be decided by relatively small margins. No president has won the popular vote by more than 10 percentage points since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

When Al Gore ran against George W. Bush in 2000, some claimed that a vote for Gore was almost the same as a vote for Bush and encouraged people to cast protest votes for Ralph Nader. Sarandon supported Nader during that election. Bush became president, and what did we get? Two incredibly young, incredibly conservative justices, John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., who will be on the court for decades, and two wars — in Afghanistan and Iraq — that, together, lasted over a decade.

In addition to setting the tone and direction of the country, the president has some constitutional duties that are profound and consequential. They include being commander in chief, making treaties and appointing judges, including, most importantly, justices to the Supreme Court. Bush demonstrated the consequences of that.

The real estate developer is now talking carelessly about promoting nuclear proliferation and torture (then there’s Ted Cruz’s talk of carpet bombing and glowing sand).

And, there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Not only that, but as of Tuesday, there were also 84 federal judiciary vacancies with 49 pending nominees.

The question of who makes those appointments matters immensely.

As Jeffrey Toobin pointed out in The New Yorker in 2014:

“When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled ten of the thirteen circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits. Because federal judges have life tenure, nearly all of Obama’s judges will continue serving well after he leaves office.

Furthermore, Toobin laid out the diversity of the Obama transformation, writing:

“Sheldon Goldman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a scholar of judicial appointments, said, ‘The majority of Obama’s appointments are women and nonwhite males.’ Forty-two percent of his judgeships have gone to women. Twenty-two percent of George W. Bush’s judges and 29 percent of Bill Clinton’s were women. Thirty-six percent of President Obama’s judges have been minorities, compared with 18 percent for Bush and 24 percent for Clinton.”

And beyond war and courts, there is the issue of inclusion.

Take Obama’s legacy on gay rights. He signed the bill repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” And in 2012, Obama became the first sitting president to support same-sex marriage. Last year, Obama became the first president to say “lesbian,” “transgender” and “bisexual” in a State of the Union speech.

Of more substance, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute:

“To date, the Obama-Biden Administration has appointed more than 250 openly LGBT professionals to full-time and advisory positions in the executive branch; more than all known LGBT appointments of other presidential administrations combined.”

There is no reason to believe that this level of acceptance would continue under the real estate developer’s administration. In fact, the Huffington Post Queer Voices editor at large Michelangelo Signorile wrote an article in February titled, “No, LGBT People Aren’t Exempt from Donald Trump’s Blatant Bigotry,” responding to a trending idea that the Republican front-runner wasn’t as bad for queer people as other Republican candidates:

“It’s absolutely false — he’s as extreme as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and will do nothing for LGBT rights — and it’s time to disabuse the media and everyone else of this notion once and for all.”

Then there are all the other promises — threats? — the real estate developer has made. He has said he would deport all undocumented immigrants, build a border wall between the United States and Mexico, end birthright citizenship, dismantle Obamacare and replace it with something “terrific” (whatever that means), defund Planned Parenthood and temporarily ban most foreign Muslims from coming to this country, among other things.

There is no true equivalency between either of the Democratic candidates and this man, and anyone who make such a claim is engaging in a repugnant, dishonorable scare tactic not worth our respect.

It is unfortunate for Sanders, who seems infinitely sober and sensible, that some of his surrogates and supporters present themselves as absolutist and doctrinaire. As Sanders himself has said, “on her worst day, Hillary Clinton will be an infinitely better candidate and president than the Republican candidate on his best day.”

The New York Times Upshot even pointed out last May that Sanders and Clinton “voted the same way 93 percent of the time in the two years they shared in the Senate” and in many of the cases in which Clinton voted differently from Sanders, “she voted with an overwhelming majority of her colleagues, including Republicans.”

That doesn’t mean that those differing votes weren’t significant. They were. As the Upshot put it, the 31 times they disagreed “happened to be” on some of “the biggest issues of the day, including measures on continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an immigration reform bill and bank bailouts during the depths of the Great Recession.”

And yet those differences hardly bring either candidate anywhere close to being as frightening as the specter of the real estate developer assuming the office of president of the United States.

Elections are about choices, not always between a dream candidate and a dreaded one, but sometimes between common sense and catastrophe. Progressives had better remember this come November, no matter who the Democratic nominee is.

Amen.  Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

Just when you thought Donald Trump couldn’t say anything more shocking, he suggested that women who get abortions should be punished.

On MSNBC, he said abortion must be banned and then “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who manage to get abortions.

He declined to say what the punishment should be, dodging a question about whether it should be “10 years” in prison or something milder. But his comment raised the possibility of following the lead of countries like El Salvador, where women can be dragged off from a hospital to prison for getting an abortion. Indeed, rights groups say that women were wrongly imprisoned in El Salvador simply for having miscarriages.

Trump doesn’t seem to have thought deeply about the issue — what a surprise! — and he departed from the mainstream anti-abortion position of targeting not women but abortion providers. As one person said on Twitter: “He’s a walking cartoon parody of every leftist accusation against Republicans.”

After the TV interview was over and the backlash had begun, Trump tried to back off his comment, saying in a statement, “The doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

Who knows where that leaves us!

One lesson is that Trump is an uninformed opportunist, but the episode does highlight two basic problems for the anti-abortion movement.

First, as long as the focus is on the fetus or on the claim of “protecting women,” many in the public are sympathetic to the anti-abortion view. The moment the focus shifts to criminalizing women, sympathy shifts.

Anti-abortion activists have generally taken a savvy approach over the years by concentrating on extreme situations — such as late-term so-called partial-birth abortions — and on legislating obstacles that in practice reduce access: Of the 1,074 state restrictions on abortion put in place after Roe v. Wade in 1973, more than one-quarter were enacted since 2010, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Many Americans are ambivalent on abortion. But Trump has now turned the attention back from the fetus to the woman. And remember that three in 10 American women get an abortion at some point in their lives.

Second, the data suggests that one of the most effective ways to reduce the number of abortions would be to increase the availability of publicly funded family planning. In 2013, publicly funded family planning prevented two million unintended pregnancies, including almost 700,000 abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Yet Republicans try to defund Title X, the traditional family planning program in the United States. After inflation, its funding level is less than one-third what it was in 1980.

In truth, Trump’s stance — whatever it is — would matter only if a more conservative Supreme Court revisited Roe v. Wade and some states were allowed to ban abortion altogether.

Moreover, medical abortion, achieved by taking two kinds of pills, is gaining ground on surgical abortion and is much more difficult to stop. In particular, one of the pills, misoprostol, is very cheap, has other uses and is at least 80 percent effective on its own in inducing an abortion early in pregnancy. The upshot is that early abortions will be increasingly difficult to prevent.

Trump’s comments about punishing women are worth pondering because they reflect the logical conclusion of equating a fetus with any other human being.

This penalizing approach has been tried before and failed. A dozen years ago, I went to Portugal to cover such an effort. The police staked out women’s health clinics, looking to arrest women who appeared likely to have just had abortions based on being pale or seeming upset. Some 48 women and a 16-year-old girl were prosecuted, along with accomplices such as husbands, boyfriends, parents and even a taxi driver who drove a woman to a clinic.

The women were humiliated on trial, their most intimate gynecological history revealed to the public. And the public was revolted. The women were all acquitted, and the public turned decisively in favor of abortion rights, by a majority of 79 percent to 14 percent.

“Forbidding abortion doesn’t save anyone or anything,” Sonia Fertuzinhos, a member of the Portuguese Parliament, told me at the time. “It just gets women arrested and humiliated in the public arena.”

The episode left many Portuguese both anti-abortion and pro-choice. They were distressed by abortion, especially late in pregnancies, but they were aghast at the idea of prosecuting young women for making wrenching personal choices. I think many Americans feel the same way.

So maybe Trump, in his flip-flopping wavering about women’s issues, can at least remind us of a larger truth. Whatever one thinks of abortion, criminalizing it would be worse.

Let’s all consider that if men had babies abortion would be a sacrament.  And now here’s Ms. Collins:

Latest in the long, long line of Controversies We Weren’t Really Expecting: the right to bear arms at the Republican National Convention.

A petition calling on the Republicans to allow people to carry their pistols when they assemble this July collected more than 50,000 signatures rather speedily this week. The Secret Service instantly turned thumbs down. The presidential candidates, who are normally so rapturous about all things gun-related, refused to get involved.

The author of the petition later told CBS that he was just trying to point out that Republicans’ enthusiasm for weaponry does not necessarily extend to large, potentially rancorous gatherings at which they are personally present. This gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about guns and politics.

There was a time when Americans seemed O.K. with a middle-of-the-road approach to guns. The public tended to regard them as things you used for hunting or household defense, and favored laws that regulated them accordingly. But no more. The National Rifle Association is beginning to run out of places to demand that people be allowed to bring their pistols, having already thrown down the gauntlet on bars, kindergartens, airports and college campuses.

The theory is that once everybody is armed 24/7, no matter what bad thing occurs, there will always be good guys on hand to shoot the evildoer. In the real world very few people — including police officers — are skilled enough to aim accurately during a scary emergency. But if you want to win the Republican presidential nomination, it’s important to pretend otherwise. After the terrorist mass murders in France, Donald Trump argued that if only Parisian concertgoers had been packing heat, the outcome would have been much different.

“You know what? If I’m in that room and let’s say we have two or five or 40 people with guns, we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout,” he said.

Two important points here: Even in the confines of Second Amendment aficionados, you don’t normally hear the term “we’re going to do a lot better because there’s going to be a shootout.” Plus, note the suggestion that people would be safer with an armed Donald Trump in the building.

Trump does not appear to know anything much about firearms. Do you remember back in January, when he boasted that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? No one took him literally, possibly because no one believed that Trump could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and actually hit anything. While he says he owns a gun, when asked if he ever uses it, he replied, “none of your business.” Mainly, he brags that his sons are crack hunters, and you can see the proof of that if you Google Donald Trump Jr. and “dead elephant tail.”

Do you think Hillary Clinton could beat Trump at a firing range? Clinton actually meets the basic political standard for marksmanship, which involves being in possession of one anecdote about having gone hunting and shot a bird. Hers goes back to her days in Arkansas when she was with a group of friends who didn’t believe she knew how to handle a gun, then watched as she downed a duck on the first try. The dead-fowl tradition is sort of silly, but it does hark back to the good old days when people thought about shooting in terms of sport and scaring off burglars.

Clinton has been talking a lot about gun regulation lately, because it’s one of the very few issues on which she can attack Bernie Sanders from the left. Sanders, who appears to have no personal interest in guns whatsoever, has been historically weak when it comes to voting on things like background checks. Their debate would be much more useful if it carried on into the general election. But it won’t. The sad truth is that Democrats don’t believe gun control is a winning issue. And the Republicans are so completely in bed with the N.R.A., the mattress is buckling.

The one candidate in this year’s race who actually has some skill as a marksman is Ted Cruz. He shot two pheasants while campaigning in Iowa, which is perfectly reasonable. He also carried out the tradition that calls for ambitious right-wing politicians to put on camouflage and face paint and go hunting with someone from “Duck Dynasty,” which is really embarrassing.

But if you want to know where Cruz stands on a reasoned approach to handling weapons, I suggest you take a look at the video in which he demonstrates how to cook bacon by wrapping it around the barrel of an assault rifle. (“Mmmm, machine gun bacon.”) The mantra is pretty straightforward. Nobody wants to think about armed convention delegates. But otherwise guns belong everywhere. Tomorrow morning, brew the coffee and shoot the breakfast.

Blow and Krugman

March 28, 2016

In “Republican Self-Destruction” Mr. Blow says on both the state and national levels, the party is demonstrating a willingness to let voter anger drive their actions.  Prof. Krugman, in “Trade, Labor, and Politics,” has a question:  Must workers suffer from globalization?  He says the political parties appear to have swapped positions on policy.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Whatever one may think about the current president and the two Democrats duking it out to replace him, you have to admit that they have, by and large, conducted themselves with an admirable level of civility and couth becoming of the office.

Not so for their Republican counterparts.

Indeed, the entirety of the Republican Party seems dead set on convincing voters that it has lost its way and is spinning out of control, consumed with anger and devoid of answers.

The two leading Republican presidential candidates engaged this week in a crude, sophomoric tiff involving insults of each other’s spouses. A nude picture of the front-runner’s wife was used in a Facebook ad. (I guess folks will have to get over their weird obsession with Michelle Obama’s bare armsif a fully bare naked cover model becomes first lady). One man threatened to “spill the beans” about the other’s wife; the other responded with a“sniveling coward” quip.

It was all so depressingly lowbrow.

And this all played out as some Republicans went apoplectic in the wake of the Brussels terror attack when President Obama attended a baseball game in Cuba and danced the tango in Argentina.

Obama responded to those criticisms like a thoughtful adult, saying at a press conference: “It is very important for us to not respond with fear.” He continued, “A lot of it is also going to be to say: ‘You do not have power over us. We are strong. Our values are right.’ ”

Obama’s response to personal attacks against him stood in stark contrast to the response of the Republican presidential candidates to personal attacks.

The truth is that there really is no contest when it comes to being presidential.

The poor choices and poor behavior of Republicans are not confined to the presidential candidates. Senate Republican leaders still haven’t agreed to grant a hearing for the president’s Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland, even when a new CNN/ORC poll found that approximately two-thirds of Americans want Garland to get a hearing and 57 percent agree that President Obama was right to make the appointment to fill the seat.

As CNN reported after the poll was released: “Congressional approval stands near its all-time low in CNN polling, with just 15 percent approving. That’s down 6 points since last February, and just a few points above the 10 percent low point hit in September 2013 just ahead of a partial government shutdown. Another finding from the poll, released earlier this week, found the Republican Party’s favorability also at its lowest point since that shutdown.”

And then there is what’s happening on the state level. On Wednesday, in a special session of the Republican-led North Carolina legislature, lawmakers pushed through a bill that a New York Times editorial called “appalling” and “unconstitutional.” The bill “bars transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity and prohibits cities from passing antidiscrimination ordinances that protect gay and transgender people.” The Republican governor, Pat McCrory, signed the bill into law on Wednesday andtweeted: “Ordinance defied common sense, allowing men to use women’s bathroom/locker room for instance. That’s why I signed bipartisan bill to stop it.”

Now please tell me who is going to do the policing of gender and how exactly will examinations be conducted? Will you now have to show a birth certification to claim a stall?

Business interests have already signaled their displeasure with the bill.

Earlier this month, Republican lawmakers in Georgia pushed through a so-called Religious Liberty Bill. As Reuters put it:

“The Georgia bill, reworked several times by lawmakers amid criticism that earlier versions went too far, declares that no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. The bill also grants faith-based organizations — churches, religious schools or associations — the right to reject holding events for people or groups of whom they object. Faith-based groups also could not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs run counter to the organization’s.”

Georgia’s governor has yet to sign the legislation, but as Reuters pointed out: “More than 300 large corporations and small businesses, including Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, have signed a pledge decrying the Georgia legislation and urging the state lawmakers to drop it.”

When Republican officials aren’t being infantile, they’re being archaic.The future of this country bends toward more inclusion and acceptance, regardless of our occasional regression. This country needs a president who doesn’t pout or get lost in puerile protestations.

I understand that Republican voters are filled with an insatiable anger stemming from unbridled electoral enthusiasm that still failed to halt unremitting social change, or elect their hopelessly unimpressive recent presidential candidates. But they are allowing themselves to be led out of the mainstream, over a cliff and into oblivion.

America is watching the Republican Party demonstrate its headstrong desire to self-destruct. I’m guessing most of America is not amused.

Yeah, but the mouth breathing knuckle walkers will continue to put gibbering morons into office thanks to gerrymandering.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

There’s a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.

But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. Rhetorical claims aside, Republicans have long tended in practice to be more protectionist than Democrats. And there’s a reason for that difference. It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.

When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past, about the high-tariff policies of the Gilded Age; I’m talking about modern Republican presidents, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions.

Actually, the latter episode should be an object lesson for anyone talking tough about trade. The Bush administration suffered from a bad case of superpower delusion, a belief that America could dictate events throughout the world. The falseness of that belief was most spectacularly demonstrated by the debacle in Iraq. But the reckoning came even sooner on trade, an area where other players, Europe in particular, have just as much power as we do.

Nor is the threat of retaliation the only factor that should deter any hard protectionist turn. There’s also the collateral damage such a turn would inflict on poor countries. It’s probably bad politics to talk right now about what a trade war would do to, say, Bangladesh. But any responsible future president would have to think hard about such matters.

Then again, we might be talking about President Trump.

But back to the broader issue of how to help workers pressured by the global economy.

Serious economic analysis has never supported the Panglossian view of trade as win-win for everyone that is popular in elite circles: growing trade can indeed hurt many people, and for the past few decades globalization has probably been, on net, a depressing force for the majority of U.S. workers.

But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. In fact, many of the bad things we associate with globalization in America were political choices, not necessary consequences — and they didn’t happen in other advanced countries, even though those countries faced the same global forces we did.

Consider, for example, the case of Denmark, which Bernie Sanders famously held up as a role model. As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are — and while it doesn’t have a free-trade agreement with Mexico, there are plenty of low-wage workers in eastern and southern Europe. Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?

Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.

And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told that global competition means that we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem.

What all this means, as I said, is that the Democratic nominee won’t have to engage in saber-rattling over trade. She (yes, it’s still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will, rightly, express skepticism about future trade deals, but she will be able to address the problems of working families without engaging in irresponsible trash talk about the world trade system. The Republican nominee won’t.

And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.

Blow and Collins

March 24, 2016

In “Dangerous World, Serious Leaders” Mr. Blow says bombast is hollow, braggadocio is meaningless, and this country needs its most stable and steady hands to guide it.  Ms. Collins considers “The Republicans’ Sin of Endorsement” and has a question:  Really, what have they got left to lose?  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is starting to be a sad, somber repetitiveness to the horror of terror attacks and the world’s reaction to them.

The attacks in Brussels this week brought the familiar ritual: initial shock, local emergency response, global condemnation and solidarity, signs of heroism, and resilience from those most closely affected.

This is the new normal. This is the new world of terrorism.

And there are no quick and easy fixes for the madness of madmen, contrary to what some might have us believe. We can seek to gather multinational coalitions with regional participants to fight the threat (something the Obama administration has been trying to do) and have an aggressive air campaign (which the Obama administration is doing), but the threat will not be easily dislodged. People can be killed, towns can be reduced to rubble, but ideas die slow deaths.

So long as free people live in free societies and increasingly cluster in urban areas, they will be soft and easy targets for those who have apocalyptic dreams of watching the world burn.

Although the terror attacks that have reached Western societies are a particular thing — what the columnist Maajid Nawaz calls a “global jihadist insurgency” — terrorism itself is simply an extension of the tremendous terror rocking some Middle Eastern and African countries.

According to the most recent Global Terrorism Index report published by the Institute for Economics and Peace:

“In 2014 the total number of deaths from terrorism increased by 80 percent when compared to the prior year. This is the largest yearly increase in the last 15 years. Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been over a nine-fold increase in the number of deaths from terrorism, rising from 3,329 in 2000 to 32,685 in 2014.”

The report continued:

“Terrorism remains highly concentrated with most of the activity occurring in just five countries — Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. These countries accounted for 78 percent of the lives lost in 2014. Although highly concentrated, terrorism is spreading to more countries, with the number of countries experiencing more than 500 deaths increasing from five to 11, a 120 percent increase from the previous year. The six new countries with over 500 deaths are Somalia, Ukraine, Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Cameroon.”

And yet, we have presidential candidates in this country responding to the expansive globalism of this threat with myopic nativism and the threat of torture, things that would likely make America less safe, not more.

This is a serious time in need of serious leaders. This country needs now, more than ever, its most stable and steady hands to lead it through a world that has become incredibly dangerous. Bombast is hollow. Braggadocio is meaningless.

And global terror isn’t the only threat this country and its allies face. There are others, some of which overlap and intersect with terror.

Syria is a failed state, and the overwhelming stream of refugees fleeing that country has put a tremendous strain on Europe.

Afghanistan is experiencing a resurgence of the Taliban.

North Korea, a nuclear state, keeps acting erratically and firing missiles into the ocean, and Iran recently conducted ballistic missile launches that drew an administration rebuke as “provocative and destabilizing.” As The New York Times reported, the statement “all but accused the Iranians of having violated a United Nations Security Council resolution that calls on them to refrain from such acts.”

China is building islands in the contested South China Sea and is deploying missiles to another island in the area. Russia seems nostalgic for its Soviet Union glory days. Libya is a disaster.

And then there is the über threat of global warming, the instability it can cause and the ways it might contribute to conflict. According to a 2014 report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

“Although there is little agreement about direct causality, low per capitaincomes, economic contraction, and inconsistent state institutions are associated with the incidence of violence. These factors can be sensitive to climate change and variability.”

This idea of global scarcity of resources, opportunity and employment is not to be taken lightly.

In a 2011 book by Jim Clifton, the chairman and C.E.O. of Gallup, titled “The Coming Jobs War,” he pointed out:

“The primary will of the world is no longer about peace or freedom or even democracy; it is not about having a family, and it is neither about God nor about owning a home or land. The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that.”

He explained that of the world’s five billion people over 15 years old, three billion said they worked or wanted to work, but there were only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs, and concluded:

“The war for global jobs is like World War II: a war for all the marbles. The global war for jobs determines the leader of the free world.”

All of these weighty issues and more are pressing down as we consider who will be our next president.

We can’t put our fate and the world’s into the hands of leaders with small minds and big mouths. This election and everything the next president will face is “for all the marbles.”

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

How can things get worse for Republicans? Jeb Bush turned out to be a terrible candidate. Marco Rubio turned out to be an annoying twit. Donald Trump is a nightmare. Something had to be done, and so the solid, steady moderate elite decided the best strategy was to rally around … Ted Cruz.

Welcome to worse.

They were terrified of Trump, whose short list of foreign policy advisers includes a 2009 college graduate with a résumé that boasts he once took part in a Model United Nations. Far better plan to nominate Cruz, whose list includes a guy who wrote an opinion piece suggesting President Obama is a Muslim, and a woman who thinks Senator Joseph McCarthy’s judgment about communists in the federal government was “spot on.”

They thought Trump would be such an unpopular nominee that the party would face a historic disaster in November. Obviously, the way to improve chances was to support the most actively disliked Republican politician in America.

Our question for today is, Why aren’t these people rallying around John Kasich? The Ohio governor is the other Trump alternative, far and away the sanest member of the trio. True, he’s kind of boring, but that doesn’t seem all that terrible a quality when you’re comparing him with Cruz, who is, at his best, excruciatingly irritating.

Senator Lindsey Graham started the trend of people who loathe Ted Cruz endorsing him to be president of the United States. He admitted that Kasich would be a better candidate in November, but claimed that the governor would never get the nomination because he’s “seen as an insider.” Mitt Romney, who announced he’d be voting for Cruz in Utah, made it clear that he likes Kasich. But he said Cruz had a better chance of denying Trump the nomination.

Yes, Romney wanted to make sure he could strike a blow against Trump’s “bigotry” and “xenophobia.” So he threw his weight behind Cruz, who called for police patrols in American Muslim neighborhoods “before they become radicalized.”

“I don’t try to figure them out,” said Kasich in a phone interview. “Everybody decides these things on the basis of — I don’t know what.”

The official Republican world now contains people who took a dive and endorsed Trump, the ones who’ve endorsed Cruz and pretended it was a profile in courage, and the ones still sitting on the fence. They all look miserable.

Wouldn’t you think a few would just say, “Look, I know Kasich is behind in delegates, but he behaves in the way I want our party to be.” It would be nice moment, wouldn’t it? But so far, the list of people who’ve gone there is pretty much confined to one ex-governor.

This week Trump and Cruz had a fight about … their wives. An anti-Trump “super PAC” circulated an old picture of Melania Trump from GQ, posing more or less nude, with the message: “Meet Melania Trump. Your next first lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”

Now, candidates don’t control political action committees, but the Cruz campaign does have a history of dirty tricks, so you could imagine even a less lunatic person than Trump getting angry. Then Trump, in his inimitable way, threatened to “spill the beans” on Heidi Cruz. Leave the families alone! What this country needs is a bean-free election.

Or at least candidates who can talk about terrorism without being terrifying. After the Brussels bombing, Cruz called for those police patrols, and bragged that he could say something so daring only because he wasn’t afraid of being politically incorrect. Trump hyperventilated about waterboarding. Meanwhile, Kasich issued a statement about international cooperation in the war against terror. You’d think that would have moved somebody.

But no. “Friend — I wanted you to be the first to know that today I am endorsing Ted Cruz for President,” Jeb Bush wrote in an email Wednesday morning. Some political observers believe that he’s trying to protect the political future of his son, George P. Bush, who is currently serving as Texas land commissioner. If that’s the case, non-committed Republicans, you really should consider voting for John Kasich just to make it clear that you are not interested in having any more members of the Bush family in line for the presidency.

“I did get a text from Jeb at 5:30 in the morning, but no phone calls,” Kasich reported.

None of these new converts to the Cruz camp seem to have any actual arguments about Cruz being a good potential president. Bush, in his announcement, complained that “Washington is broken” but made no attempt whatsoever to explain how things would be improved by the nomination of a senator whose sole achievement in office was an effort to shut down the government. Maybe they think if Cruz is the spoiler at the convention, it’ll be easier to shove him away to make room for a brand new superhero? (Looking at you, Mitt.)

Blow and Krugman

March 21, 2016

In “Learning Lessons From Outrage” Mr. Blow says the current political crisis shows that we must constantly struggle for what we choose to be as a country.  Prof. Krugman, in “On Invincible Ignorance,” says the Republican Party may be in for some soul-searching, but so far its leaders remain in denial.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There is so much we have learned from this painful election season and the rise of a demagogic real estate developer.

We have learned that a human branding machine who grew up in the shadows and spotlight of New York City’s cutthroat media knows intuitively how to exploit that media.

We have learned that too many in the media are ever so willing to be exploited if the exploitation is mutual and money is to be made.

We have learned what conditions make the prime environment for the rise of a demagogue: disaffection, demographic change, the demise of hope and opportunity and the dislocation of traditional power and privilege from automatic inheritance of prosperity.

We have seen that divisive, dangerous leaders don’t necessarily rise because of stirring oration or a clear and compelling vision. They can be quirky, disarming and idiosyncratic, with a vague, hollow message that says little even as it promises much.

We have learned the dangers of doubting the depravity and desperation of some who would follow such a man despite, or possibly even because of, his offensive rhetoric and outrageous policies.

We have learned just how much ugliness exists in this country, and what it looks like when it finds a voice, a leader and a reason to gather and unite.

We have learned that the Republican establishment has no clue who the Republican base is anymore, or if they do, they thought wrongly that they could control them by feeding them crumbs of obstruction and vague aspirationalism from their table of excess. In fact, that base has been gorging itself on fear and anger, vileness and the possibility of violence.

As Rolling Stone reported last week in the following exchange with the Republican pollster Frank Luntz:

“Republicans didn’t listen,” says Luntz. “They didn’t hear the anger because they spent too much time in Washington and not enough in the rest of America. The Republican finance people, the donor class, they didn’t see it and didn’t hear it, and by the time they did, it was too late.” Luntz compared it to a horror film: “You know something’s out there, but you don’t see it until you’re getting stabbed.”

When you compare your own base to the killer in a slasher flick, you know you have a problem.

We have learned what it looks like when a party eventually wakes up to itself being overtaken and undone and throws itself into convulsions to rescue itself from a creature of its own creation.

As The New York Times reported Saturday, Republican leaders adamantly opposed to their own front-runner’s candidacy “are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination” with a “delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort” that would cast him as “a calamitous choice for the general election.”

The article continued, saying that “an effort to block him would rely on an array of desperation measures, the political equivalent of guerrilla fighting.” It’s war.

But for all those looking on in horror and disbelief, I hope that we have learned something else, something great.

I hope that we learn to constantly center the ideal at that core of the current offense: enlightenment, equality and idealism.

I hope that we learn that progress is not an unfailingly upward, inexorably positive movement, but an awkward and clumsy dance in which we lurch forward three steps and stumble back two.

I hope we learn that citizenship and comfort in a free society is not free. It comes at a cost. You must work to grow and maintain our liberty, because there are forces that would undo and dismantle those liberties. We must stay awake and engaged, informed and involved if we are to continue to move out of darkness and into light.

I hope we learn that if one is not actively working to dismantle oppressive forces and inclinations in oneself and in society, one’s silence and inaction provide support for their continuation and prosperity.

Inertia is no respecter of ideology. It can move right just as easily as it can move left. It can move toward the better just as easily as toward the worse.

There is no moment in a republic when there is a lull in the fight. The battles always rage. The enemy stays busy. Nothing that is won stays won without vigilant protection. We, as a country, again find ourselves standing at the precipice, staring into the darkness of the void, and we must fight our way back from it.

And this is not just about being against the real estate developer. It’s more. It’s about being for something: nobility, honor and character, righteousness, civility and togetherness. We have to decide who we are as a country, not as an opposition force but as a positive, proactive force, and use all levers of power to which we have access to bring our vision of America into reality.

The rise of the real estate developer has drawn into sharp relief the idea that doing nothing and expecting to preserve or extend progress isn’t an option.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the G.O.P., delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Mr. Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Mr. Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

And the answer is, nothing.

Like just about everyone in the Republican establishment, Mr. Ryan is in denial about the roots of Trumpism, about the extent to which the party deliberately cultivated anger and racial backlash, only to lose control of the monster it created. But what I found especially striking were his comments on tax policy. I know, boring — but indulge me here. There’s a larger moral.

You might think that Republican thought leaders would be engaged in some soul-searching about their party’s obsession with cutting taxes on the wealthy. Why do candidates who inveigh against the evils of budget deficits and federal debt feel obliged to propose huge high-end tax cuts — much bigger than those of George W. Bush — that would eliminate trillions in revenue?

And economics aside, why such a commitment to a policy that has never had much support even from the party’s own base, and appears even more politically suspect in the face of a populist uprising?

But here’s what Mr. Ryan said about all those tax cuts for the top 1 percent: “I do not like the idea of buying into these distributional tables. What you’re talking about is what we call static distribution. It’s a ridiculous notion.”

Aha. The income mobility zombie strikes again.

Ever since income inequality began its sharp rise in the 1980s, one favorite conservative excuse has been that it doesn’t mean anything, because economic positions change all the time. People who are rich this year might not be rich next year, so the gap between the rich and the rest doesn’t matter, right?

Well, it’s true that people move up and down the economic ladder, and apologists for inequality love to cite statistics showing that many people who are in the top 1 percent in any given year are out of that category the next year.

But a closer look at the data shows that there is less to this observation than it seems. These days, it takes an income of around $400,000 a year to put you in the top 1 percent, and most of the fluctuation in incomes we see involves people going from, say, $350,000 to $450,000 or vice versa. As one comprehensive survey put it, “The majority of economic mobility occurs over fairly small spans of the distribution.” Average incomes over multiple years are almost as unequally distributed as incomes in any given year, which means that tax cuts that mainly benefit the rich are indeed targeted at a small group of people, not the public at large.

And here’s the thing: This isn’t a new observation. As it happens, I personally took on the very same argument Mr. Ryan is making — and showed that it was wrong — almost 25 years ago. Yet the man widely considered the G.O.P.’s intellectual leader is still making the same old claims.

O.K., maybe I’m just indulging a pet peeve by focusing on this particular subject. Yet the persistence of the income mobility zombie, like the tax-cuts-mean-growth zombie (which should have been killed, once and for all, by the debacles in Kansas and Louisiana), is part of a pattern.

Appalled Republicans may rail against Donald Trump’s arrogant ignorance. But how different, really, are the party’s mainstream leaders? Their blinkered view of the world has the veneer of respectability, may go along with an appearance of thoughtfulness, but in reality it’s just as impervious to evidence — maybe even more so, because it has the power of groupthink behind it.

This is why you shouldn’t grieve over Marco Rubio’s epic political failure. Had Mr. Rubio succeeded, he would simply have encouraged his party to believe that all it needs is a cosmetic makeover — a fresher, younger face to sell the same old defunct orthodoxy. Oh, and a last-minute turn to someone like John Kasich would, in its own way, have similar implications.

What we’re getting instead is at least the possibility of a cleansing shock — of a period in the political wilderness that will finally force the Republican establishment to rethink its premises. That’s a good thing — or it would be, if it didn’t also come with the risk of President Trump.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 167 other followers