Archive for the ‘Bobo’ Category

Brooks and Krugman

November 20, 2015

Yowzah…  All bets are off…  In “Hillary Clinton Takes On ISIS” Bobo says she just became the first of the presidential candidates to put forward a comprehensive, mature plan to fight ISIS and Assad.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “When David Brooks starts praising Hillary Clinton over the Republicans he’s devoted his life to supporting, you know we’re in uncharted territory. Normal rules of engagement don’t apply.”  In “The Farce Awakens” Prof. Krugman says Republicans’ panic over Syrian refugees fits a pattern.  Here’s Bobo:

This week we had a chance to watch Hillary Clinton respond in real time to a complex foreign policy challenge. On Thursday, six days after the Paris attacks, she gave a comprehensive antiterrorism speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The speech was very impressive. While other candidates are content to issue vague calls to get tough on terror, Clinton offered a multilayered but coherent framework, not only dealing with ISIS but also putting that threat within the crosscutting conflicts that are inflaming the Middle East.

For example, instead of just issuing a generic call to get tough on the terrorists, she pointed to the reality that ISIS will be toppled only if there is an uprising by fellow Sunnis. There has to be a Sunni Awakening against ISIS in 2016, like the Sunni Awakening that toppled Al Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2007.

That will not happen while President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria is spreading mayhem, terror and genocide. As long as they find themselves in the grips of a horrific civil war, even sensible Sunnis will feel that they need ISIS as a counterpoint to the butchery coming out of Damascus.

Clinton therefore gestured to the reality that you can’t really deal with ISIS unless you are also willing to deal with Assad. Assad is not some secondary threat who we can deal with after we’ve tamed the ISIS monster. Assad created the failed state and the power vacuum that ISIS was able to fill. Assad serves as chief recruiter for ISIS every time he drops a barrel bomb on a school or a market. Assad, as Clinton pointed out, has murdered even more Syrians than ISIS has.

Dealing with both Assad and ISIS simultaneously throws you into the bitter and complex jockeying between Sunni and Shiite, between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It puts pressure on your Ukraine policy (Vladimir Putin will want concessions as a price for backing off his aggression in the Middle East). Everything is connected. Which is why the presidency is for grown-ups, not rank outsiders.

Some of Clinton’s specific prescriptions were a little too limited and Obamaesque for my taste (she didn’t even call for more American Special Operations forces to improve the bombing campaigns, though she said she would be open to it). But she is thoughtful and instructive on both the big picture and the right way forward. She seems to understand that if we end up allying with Russia in a common fight against terrorism, we will end up preserving Assad, preserving ISIS and making everything worse.

Some Republicans have stained themselves with refugee xenophobia, but there’s a bigger story here: For a time, the Middle East was held together by Arab nation-states and a belief in Arab nationalisms. Recently Arab nationalisms have withered and Arab nation-states have begun to dissolve from their own decrepitude.

Along comes ISIS filling that vacuum and trying to destroy what’s left of Arab nations. ISIS dreams of a caliphate. It erases borders. It destroys order.

The Arab nation-states were not great. But the nation-state system did preserve a certain order. National identities and boundaries enabled Sunnis and Shiites to live together peaceably. If nations go away in the region we’ll get a sectarian war of all against all, radiating terrorism like we’ve never seen.

The grand strategy of American policy in the Middle East, therefore, should be to do what we can to revive and reform Arab nations, to help them become functioning governing units.

That means confronting the forces that thrive in failed states. That begins with stepped-up military pressure on ISIS. Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations proposes a campaign like the one that allowed the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban after 9/11 — a light footprint campaign using Special Operations forces and C.I.A. paramilitaries to direct allied bombing in support of locals on the ground. Once life becomes a miserable grind for ISIS soldiers, recruiting will suffer.

But it also means going hard on Assad, creating no-fly zones for sanctuaries for Syrian refugees to limit his power, ratcheting up pressure on Iran and Russia to force his departure. And it also means supporting institutional reform, as Clinton said, throughout the Arab world, to revitalize nations as functioning units. Not an unsustainable stab at nation-building, but better governance from top to bottom.

Before Paris it was possible to argue that time was on our side, that we could sit back and let ISIS collapse under the weight of its own craziness. The Paris attacks refuted that. ISIS is becoming an ever more aggressive threat. The F.B.I. already has over 900 active Islamic State investigations ongoing. Lord knows what sort of biological or other weapons the group can get its hands on.

Candidate Clinton laid out a supple and sophisticated approach. The next president will have to provide the action.

Okay.  We’re officially down the rabbit hole.  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState’s annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.

So it’s worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn’t think highly of President Obama’s antiterrorism policies.

Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won’t be going to see the new “Star Wars” movie on opening day, because “there are no metal detectors at American theaters.”

It’s a bizarre reaction — but when you think about it, it’s part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.

Consider first the reaction to the Paris attacks. Lightsabers aside, are Mr. Erickson’s fears any sillier than those of the dozens of governors — almost all Republicans — who want to ban Syrian refugees from their states?

Mr. Obama certainly thinks they’re being ridiculous; he mocked politicians who claim that they’re so tough that they could stare down America’s enemies, but are “scared of widows and orphans.” (He was probably talking in particular about Chris Christie, who has said that he even wants to ban young children.) Again, the contrast with France, where President François Hollande has reaffirmed the nation’s willingness to take in refugees, is striking.

And it’s pretty hard to find anyone on that side of the aisle, even among seemingly respectable voices, showing the slightest hint of perspective. Jeb Bush, the erstwhile establishment candidate, wants to clamp down on accepting refugees unless “you can prove you’re a Christian.” The historian Niall Ferguson, a right-wing favorite, says the Paris attacks were exactly like the sack of Rome by the Goths. Hmm: Were ancient Romans back in the cafes a few days later?

But we shouldn’t really be surprised, because we’ve seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What’s more, the supposed “solutions” were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that “the plague will start and spread” in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control — but it’s unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right’s propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it’s also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.

Given this context, it’s only natural that the right would seize on a terrorist attack in France as proof that Mr. Obama has left America undefended and vulnerable. Ted Cruz, who has a real chance of becoming the Republican nominee, goes so far as to declare that the president “does not wish to defend this country.”

The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump’s candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security.

Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Sure enough, polling since the Paris attack suggests that Mr. Trump has actually gained ground.

The point is that at this point panic is what the right is all about, and the Republican nomination will go to whoever can most effectively channel that panic. Will the same hold true in the general election? Stay tuned.

All they’ve got to peddle at this point is pants-piddling panic.  And the mindless Faux Noise watching knuckle walkers eat it up with a spoon.

Solo Bobo

November 17, 2015

Oh, FSM have mercy on us all.  Bobo has extruded something titled “Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts” in which he babbles that the answer to ending religious violence will probably be found within religion itself.  In the comments “Joe Walters” from New Jersey had this to say:  “Does Mr Brooks have any suggestions on how to deal with the religious fundamentalists that are persecuting homosexuals, want women to return to a medieval role in the home and who deny modern science, believing fantastical ideas such as the earth being only six thousand years old.  I’m not talking about ISIS, though of course they want the same. I had in mind the Presidential candidates of the party that Mr Brooks supports.  If he had some ideas on how to deal with that crazy bunch of dangerous extremists we’d all like to hear them.”  So would we all, Joe, but don’t hold your breath…  Here’s Bobo:

It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.

But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.

The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.

Part of this is simply demographic. Religious communities produce lots of babies and swell their ranks, while secular communities do not. The researcher Michael Blume looked back as far as ancient India and Greece and concluded that every nonreligious population in history has experienced demographic decline.

Humans also are meaning-seeking animals. We live, as Sacks writes, in a century that “has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.” The secular substitutes for religion — nationalism, racism and political ideology — have all led to disaster. So many flock to religion, sometimes — especially within Islam — to extremist forms.

This is already leading to religious violence. In November 2014, just to take one month, there were 664 jihadist attacks in 14 countries, killing a total of 5,042 people. Since 1984, an estimated 1.5 million Christians have been killed by Islamist militias in Sudan.

Sacks emphasizes that it is not religion itself that causes violence. In their book Encyclopedia of Wars, Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod surveyed 1,800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent had any religious component at all.

Rather, religion fosters groupishness, and the downside of groupishness is conflict with people outside the group. Religion can lead to thick moral communities, but in extreme forms it can also lead to what Sacks calls pathological dualism, a mentality that divides the world between those who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad.

The pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel.

That’s what we saw in Paris last week.

Sacks correctly argues that we need military weapons to win the war against fanatics like ISIS, but we need ideas to establish a lasting peace. Secular thought or moral relativism are unlikely to offer any effective rebuttal. Among religious people, mental shifts will be found by reinterpreting the holy texts themselves. There has to be a Theology of the Other: a complex biblical understanding of how to see God’s face in strangers. That’s what Sacks sets out to do.

The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.

The Bible is filled with sibling rivalries: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers. The Bible crystallizes the truth that people sometimes find themselves competing for parental love and even competing for God’s love.

Read simplistically, the Bible’s sibling rivalries seem merely like stories of victory or defeat — Isaac over Ishmael. But all three Abrahamic religions have sophisticated, multilayered interpretive traditions that undercut fundamentalist readings.

Alongside the ethic of love there is a command to embrace an ethic of justice. Love is particular, but justice is universal. Love is passionate, justice is dispassionate.

Justice demands respect of the other. It plays on the collective memory of people who are in covenantal communities: Your people, too, were once vulnerable strangers in a strange land.

The command is not just to be empathetic toward strangers, which is fragile. The command is to pursue sanctification, which involves struggle and sometimes conquering your selfish instincts. Moreover, God frequently appears where he is least expected — in the voice of the stranger — reminding us that God transcends the particulars of our attachments.

The reconciliation between love and justice is not simple, but for believers the texts, read properly, point the way. Sacks’s great contribution is to point out that the answer to religious violence is probably going to be found within religion itself, among those who understand that religion gains influence when it renounces power.

It may seem strange that in this century of technology, peace will be found within these ancient texts. But as Sacks points out, Abraham had no empire, no miracles and no army — just a different example of how to believe, think and live.

Why not go on another $120,000 vacation, Bobo, and STFU for a while…  (

Brooks and Krugman

November 13, 2015

Bobo’s got a bad case of the flop sweats.  In “The G.O.P. at an Immigration Crossroads” he wrings his hands and moans that the Republican Party is about to secure either its future or its demise.  I think I know which it will be, given the current occupants of the clown car…  Prof. Krugman considers “Republicans’ Lust for Gold” and says the party’s presidential candidates are falling in behind — and falling for — hard-money policies.  Here’s Bobo:

It’s no exaggeration to say that the next six months will determine the viability of the Republican Party. The demographics of this country are changing. This will be the last presidential election cycle in which the G.O.P., in its current form, has even a shot at winning the White House. And so the large question Republicans must ask themselves is: Are we as a party willing to champion the new America that is inexorably rising around us, or are we the receding roar of an old America that is never coming back?

Within that large question the G.O.P. will have to face several other questions.

The first is: How is 21st-century America going to view outsiders? For Republicans in the Donald Trump camp, the metaphor is very clear: A wall. Outsiders are a threat and a wall will keep them out.

Republicans in the Jeb Bush camp have a very different metaphor. As Bush and his co-author Clint Bolick wrote in their book, “Immigration Wars,” “When immigration policy is working right it is like a hydroelectric dam: a sturdy wall whose valves allow torrents of water to pour through, creating massive amounts of dynamic energy.” Under this metaphor the outside world is not a threat; it’s a source of creativity, dynamism and perpetual renewal.

The second question Republicans have to ask is: Can the party see reality? The great Victorian critic John Ruskin once wrote: “The more I think of it I find this conclusion more impressed upon me — that the greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see.”

Some Republican leaders simply lack the ability or willingness to acknowledge reality. Deporting 11 million people is not reality. Building a physical wall across the southern border is not reality. I’m sorry, Ted Cruz, but going back to the gold standard is not reality.

The third G.O.P. question is: How does the party view leadership? For a rising number of Republicans — congregating around Trump and Ben Carson — leadership is about ignorance and inexperience. Actually having prepared for the job is a disqualifying factor. Knowing the substance of government is a negative.

On the other side, people like John Kasich and Bush are becoming more aggressive in their defense of experience, knowledge and craftsmanship. They’ve become more aggressive in making the case that governance is hard and you’ve got to know how things fit together.

In the realm of immigration, the first conclusion any pragmatist draws is that it’s ridiculous to say we just need to start enforcing the laws. The problem, as Bush has argued, is that the laws are dysfunctional. The whole system is wildly broken and it would cause massive dislocation if the rules were actually enforced. The system needs to be reformed.

The other conclusion any pragmatist draws is that for political and practical reasons, the whole system has to be reformed comprehensively and at once. You can’t do anything effective unless all the pieces fit together. As Bush and Bolick argued in their book, “A goal of sealing the border is hopeless without creating an immigration pipeline that provides a viable alternative to illegal immigration.”

As anybody with legislative experience knows, nothing can be passed unless Republican interests are rallied along with Democratic interests, unless Silicon Valley’s political influence is joined by the farm state’s political influence. Doing that requires experience and knowledge.

Republican craftsmen understand this reality. Political naïfs do not.

The fourth question is: How does the Republican Party treat the distrust that is so pervasive in our society?

For some in the Cruz, Trump and Bobby Jindal camps, this distrust is to be exploited. This produces a kind of nihilism. Tear down. Oppose. Scorn. Shut down government but do not have an actual plan to achieve your goals once it’s shut down. Depose a House speaker but have no viable path forward once he is gone.

The other approach is to see distrust as a problem that can be reduced with effective conservative governance. Under Ronald Reagan, faith in government actually rose, because people saw things like tax reform getting done. Republicans in this camp view cynicism as a poison to be drained, not a kerosene to be lit.

On all these levels, the Republican Party faces a crossroads moment. Immigration is the key issue around which Republicans will determine the course of their party. It’ll be fascinating to see which way they go.

One more point. I’m sorry, Marco Rubio, when your party faces a choice this stark, with consequences this monumental, you’re probably not going to be able to get away with being a little on both sides.

Bobo, this is what happens when you leave the lunatics in charge of the asylum.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It’s not too hard to understand why everyone seeking the Republican presidential nomination is proposing huge tax cuts for the rich. Just follow the money: Candidates in the G.O.P. primary draw the bulk of their financial support from a few dozen extremely wealthy families. Furthermore, decades of indoctrination have made an essentially religious faith in the virtues of high-end tax cuts — a faith impervious to evidence — a central part of Republican identity.

But what we saw in Tuesday’s presidential debate was something relatively new on the policy front: an increasingly unified Republican demand for hard-money policies, even in a depressed economy. Ted Cruz demands a return to the gold standard. Jeb Bush says he isn’t sure about that, but is open to the idea. Marco Rubio wants the Fed to focus solely on price stability, and stop worrying about unemployment. Donald Trump and Ben Carson see a pro-Obama conspiracy behind the Federal Reserve’s low-interest rate policy.

And let’s not forget that Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, has spent years berating the Fed for policies that, he insisted, would “debase” the dollar and lead to high inflation. Oh, and he has flirted with Carson/Trump-style conspiracy theories, too, suggesting that the Fed’s efforts since the financial crisis were not about trying to boost the economy but instead aimed at “bailing out fiscal policy,” that is, letting President Obama get away with deficit spending.

As I said, this hard-money orthodoxy is relatively new. Republicans used to base their monetary recommendations on the ideas of Milton Friedman, who opposed Keynesian policies to fight depressions, but only because he thought easy money could do the job better, and who called on Japan to adopt the same strategy of “quantitative easing” that today’s Republicans denounce.

George W. Bush’s economists praised the “aggressive monetary policy” that, they declared, had helped the economy recover from the 2001 recession. And Mr. Bush appointed Ben Bernanke, who used to consider himself a Republican, to lead the Fed.

But now it’s hard money all the way. Republicans have turned their back on Friedman, whether they know it or not, and draw their monetary doctrine from “Austrian” economists like Friedrich Hayek — whose ideas Friedman described as an “atrophied and rigid caricature” — when they aren’t turning directly to Ayn Rand.

This turn wasn’t driven by experience. The new Republican monetary orthodoxy has already failed the reality test with flying colors: that “debased” dollar has risen 30 percent against other major currencies since 2011, while inflation has stayed low. In fact, the failure of conservative monetary predictions has been so abject that news reports, always looking for “balance,” tend to whitewash the record by pretending that Republican Fed critics didn’t say what they said. But years of predictive failure haven’t stopped the orthodoxy from tightening its grip on the party. What’s going on?

My main answer would be that the Friedman compromise — trash-talking government activism in general, but asserting that monetary policy is different — has proved politically unsustainable. You can’t, in the long run, keep telling your base that government bureaucrats are invariably incompetent, evil or both, then say that the Fed, which is, when all is said and done, basically a government agency run by bureaucrats, should be left free to print money as it sees fit.

Politicians who lump it all together, who warn darkly that the Fed is inflating away your hard-earned wealth and enabling giveaways to Those People, are always going to have the advantage in intraparty struggles.

You might think that the overwhelming empirical evidence against the hard-money view would count for something. But you’d only think that if you were paying no attention to any other policy debate.

Leading political figures insist that climate change is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast international scientific conspiracy. Do you really think that their party will be persuaded to change its economic views by inconvenient macroeconomic data?

The interesting question is what will happen to monetary policy if a Republican wins next year’s election. As best as I can tell, most economists believe that it’s all talk, that once in the White House someone like Mr. Rubio or even Mr. Cruz would return to Bush-style monetary pragmatism. Financial markets seem to believe the same. At any rate, there’s no sign in current asset prices that investors see a significant chance of the catastrophe that would follow a return to gold.

But I wouldn’t be so sure. True, a new president who looked at the evidence and listened to the experts wouldn’t go down that path. But evidence and expertise have a well-known liberal bias.

Bobo, solo

November 10, 2015

In “The Things They Carry” Bobo tells us that when you meet Kennedy Odede, the first thing you notice is his cheerfulness. You would never guess his past.  Here he is:

Kennedy Odede is one of the most joy-filled people I’ve met.

He grew up in the Kibera slum in Nairobi. With his American wife, Jessica Posner, he created a school for girls and a community organization calledShining Hope for Communities, or Shofco, there.

My eldest son worked at the school a few summers ago and I’ve gotten to know Kennedy’s mischievous laughter during his trips to the U.S.

But I just read “Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss and Hope in an African Slum,” the gripping book Kennedy and Jessica wrote together about their lives.

You meet somebody in adulthood and you think the person you know is the one who was always there. But when I read about Kennedy’s childhood, it was like descending into some unexpected pit.

When Kennedy was 3 his cherished grandmother died after she was bitten by a rabid dog. The family moved to a Nairobi slum where they lived with constant hunger and complete poverty.

His drunken stepfather beat him constantly; when he was 5 the beating was so relentless, all the feces escaped from his body.

When he was 8, his best friend died, maybe of malaria. Driven by hunger, Kennedy once tried to steal a mango from the market. The crowd beat him savagely (this is how mob justice sometimes works in Kibera) and would have killed him if a stranger hadn’t intervened.

To survive he joined a street gang. He did some street crime, armed and unarmed. Driven by hunger, his best friend tried to steal a purse and was beaten to death by a mob. Another friend tried to rob a store with a toy pistol and was killed by the police. Kennedy found another friend; the friend hanged himself at age 17.

Kennedy briefly got to attend a church school, but the priest would lock him in a room and molest him each week. Two of his sisters were raped and impregnated.

During ethnic violence, four of his best friends were essentially castrated and left to bleed to death.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Reading all this I kept wondering: How did this delightful man emerge from this horrific childhood? In a future column I’ll describe the research on how some people survive trauma, but for now I’ll let Kennedy speak for himself. Here’s an abridged version of an email he sent me over the weekend:

“While I didn’t have food, couldn’t go to school, or when I was the victim or witness of violence, I tried to appreciate things like the sunrise — something that everyone in the world shares and can find joy in no matter if you are rich or poor. Seeing the sunrise was always healing for me, it was a new day, and it was a beauty to behold.

“There were times when my pain led me to do things I’m not proud of. I did drugs like sniffing glue and petrol. But eventually I learned a trick: Replace a negative addiction with a positive. I replaced my addiction to drugs and alcohol with an addiction to books, which also provided me a much needed escape.

“I grew to know that no situation lasts forever. I used to tell myself that even when the day felt dark, eventually the light would somehow come. Nothing is constant.

“For every bad person I encountered who hurt me and caused me suffering and pain, I also met a lot of good people. For the priest that abused me, I met a man of God who saved my life on the day I stole a mango and was almost beaten to death (he paid back the mango’s price and more).

“My mom taught me that while there is a God, that one God might be very busy, so we have to rely on the people we encounter in our life who become what she called ‘small gods.’

“As a child, I knew how much my mom loved me. She was often in hard situations herself, but I knew she believed in me, she thought I was special, and I never gave up because I knew how much my mom wanted for me, and how much her love for me often cost her (beatings from my stepdad, suffering herself).

“When I was on the streets as a child I thought of what my mom had told me, that no matter where I was in the world, if I could see the stars I should know that she could see them, too, and I felt her love always.

“Finally, Shofco saved my life and helped me to remain positive even when the worst happened. It made me feel not like a passive victim, but like I had agency and power to change what was happening in my community.

“I think starting Shofco also gave me a sense of the power of ‘ubuntu,’ feeling connected to a universal humanity.”

I guess Bobo was too proud to ask anyone to click on his first link and donate to Shofco…  But you can make a donation.

Brooks and Krugman

November 6, 2015

This must have just about KILLED Bobo.  In “Great News! We’re Not Doomed By Soaring Healthcare Costs” he was forced to admit that there are lots of different ways to read what is happening, but overall there does seem to be some lasting improvement.  Prof. Krugman, in “Austerity’s Grim Legacy,” says the deficit fetishism that led to government cutbacks has been more destructive in the long run than even its critics anticipated.  Here’s Bobo:

It really matters who the next president is. But there are other things that matter just as much to the nation’s future prosperity. One of them is: What is happening to health care costs?

If health care costs start to rise again the way they did before, then health care spending will swallow the economy and bankrupt the federal government. If they are contained, then suddenly there’s a lot more money for everything else, like schools, antipoverty efforts and wages.

The good news is that recently health care inflation has been at historic lows. As Jason Furman, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, put it in a speech to the Hamilton Project last month, “Health care prices have grown at an annual rate of 1.6 percent since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in March 2010, the slowest rate for such a period in five decades, and those prices have grown at an even slower 1.1 percent rate over the 12 months ending in August 2015.”

As a result of the slowdown in health care inflation, the Congressional Budget Office keeps reducing its projections of the future cost of federal health programs like Medicare. As of October, projections for federal health care spending in the year 2020 were $175 billion lower than the projections made in August 2010. That would be a huge budget improvement.

The big question is whether these trends will continue. Many people believe that health care inflation came down for entirely temporary reasons and that over the long run we’re still doomed.

One group in this camp emphasizes that the economy went into the tank, so of course people went to the doctor less often. As history demonstrates, it can take up to six years for a recession’s impact to work its way through the system; then health care costs shoot up just as before.

Another group emphasizes that health care inflation is down because general inflation is down, and once general inflation is back to normal, health care costs will shoot upward.

A third group argues that we’ve recently had a decline in technological innovation. Not many useful but costly new drugs or machines have come on the market over the past few years, but if innovation resumes then so will rising costs.

But other experts say the reduction in health care inflation is partly structural and therefore more longstanding. Some point out that health care inflation really began trending downward in 2003 or 2004, during George W. Bush’s first term and long before the recession hit. Second, the reduction in health care cost growth seems to be global. Health cost growth has slowed in just about every high-income country since 2000, possibly as efficiencies are passed from place to place.

Members of the Obama administration like to argue that Obamacare has pushed things along. For example, the Affordable Care Act pushed providers into Accountable Care Organizations. Instead of getting paid for doing more tests and procedures, providers have a greater incentive to just keep people healthy.

The law also encouraged bundling. If you go in to get a hip replacement, the government makes a single payment for all services associated with that episode of care. The law also penalizes hospitals when patients have to be readmitted. There’s been a significant drop in readmissions.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about which side of the debate is right. The most recent numbers have indicated a scary surge in health care prices, and some firms are projecting 6.5 percent inflation for 2016. While parts of the law reduce spending, other parts may lead to more spending, especially as the industry gets more concentrated.

And yet the weight of the evidence suggests that part of the change is permanent. Moving away from the bad old fee-for-service system has got to be a good thing. The greater pressures providers feel to reduce costs have got to be a good thing, at least fiscally.

Last March, Jonathan Rauch wrote a report for the Brookings Institution, arguing that the health care market is more open to normal business model innovation than ever before. The quality of health care data and analytics is improving exponentially. Pressures to reduce costs are ratcheting up. Profitable niches are growing for efficiency improving products.

In the past, most innovation involved improving quality of care at high cost. Rauch described many entrepreneurs who are providing innovations that maintain current quality of care but at lower cost.

We seem to be making at least some incremental progress toward a structural reduction in health care inflation. Many Americans are feeling gloomy about accomplishing anything these days, but progress is possible. We haven’t whipped health care inflation, or defeated our intractable budget issues. But the evidence suggests we’re landing a few serious blows.

And of course the mole people will no doubt try another 50 times to repeal Obamacare…  Here’s Prof. Krugman:

When economic crisis struck in 2008, policy makers by and large did the right thing. The Federal Reserve and other central banks realized that supporting the financial system took priority over conventional notions of monetary prudence. The Obama administration and its counterparts realized that in a slumping economy budget deficits were helpful, not harmful. And the money-printing and borrowing worked: A repeat of the Great Depression, which seemed all too possible at the time, was avoided.

Then it all went wrong. And the consequences of the wrong turn we took look worse now than the harshest critics of conventional wisdom ever imagined.

For those who don’t remember (it’s hard to believe how long this has gone on): In 2010, more or less suddenly, the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic decided to stop worrying about unemployment and start worrying about budget deficits instead.

This shift wasn’t driven by evidence or careful analysis. In fact, it was very much at odds with basic economics. Yet ominous talk about the dangers of deficits became something everyone said because everyone else was saying it, and dissenters were no longer considered respectable — which is why I began describing those parroting the orthodoxy of the moment as Very Serious People.

Some of us tried in vain to point out that deficit fetishism was both wrongheaded and destructive, that there was no good evidence that government debt was a problem for major economies, while there was plenty of evidence that cutting spending in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.

And we were vindicated by events. More than four and a half years have passed since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles warned of a fiscal crisis within two years; U.S. borrowing costs remain at historic lows. Meanwhile, the austerity policies that were put into place in 2010 and after had exactly the depressing effects textbook economics predicted; the confidence fairy never did put in an appearance.

Yet there’s growing evidence that we critics actually underestimated just how destructive the turn to austerity would be. Specifically, it now looks as if austerity policies didn’t just impose short-term losses of jobs and output, but they also crippled long-run growth.

The idea that policies that depress the economy in the short run also inflict lasting damage is generally referred to as “hysteresis.” It’s an idea with an impressive pedigree: The case for hysteresis was made in a well-known 1986 paper by Olivier Blanchard, who later became the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Lawrence Summers, who served as a top official in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. But I think everyone was hesitant to apply the idea to the Great Recession, for fear of seeming excessively alarmist.

At this point, however, the evidence practically screams hysteresis. Even countries that seem to have largely recovered from the crisis, like the United States, are far poorer than precrisis projections suggested they would be at this point. And a new paper by Mr. Summers and Antonio Fatás, in addition to supporting other economists’ conclusion that the crisis seems to have done enormous long-run damage, shows that the downgrading of nations’ long-run prospects is strongly correlated with the amount of austerity they imposed.

What this suggests is that the turn to austerity had truly catastrophic effects, going far beyond the jobs and income lost in the first few years. In fact, the long-run damage suggested by the Fatás-Summers estimates is easily big enough to make austerity a self-defeating policy even in purely fiscal terms: Governments that slashed spending in the face of depression hurt their economies, and hence their future tax receipts, so much that even their debt will end up higher than it would have been without the cuts.

And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.

There are a few obvious lessons from this debacle. “All the important people say so” is not, it turns out, a good way to decide on policy; groupthink is no substitute for clear analysis. Also, calling for sacrifice (by other people, of course) doesn’t mean you’re tough-minded.

But will these lessons sink in? Past economic troubles, like the stagflation of the 1970s, led to widespread reconsideration of economic orthodoxy. But one striking aspect of the past few years has been how few people are willing to admit having been wrong about anything. It seems all too possible that the Very Serious People who cheered on disastrous policies will learn nothing from the experience. And that is, in its own way, as scary as the economic outlook.

Brooks and Nocera

November 3, 2015

Bobo is here to tell us all about “The Evolution of Simplicity.”  He coos that these are busy and complicated times, and today’s simplicity movements are different from those in the past.  In the comments “gemli” from Boston had this to say:  “If only excessive materialism and manifold opportunities were the problem in this country. I think Mr. Brooks tends to project his own affluent angst on society at large. While he’s looking for some sort of Platonic transcendence, the rest of us wish we had the resources to wander lonely as a cloud and develop refined sensibilities.”  Mr. Nocera is moving on.  In “And That’s My Opinion!” he says before he heads to a new assignment, he has some final words on a few topics.  He’s apparently going to the sports desk.  I wonder how he’ll be able to carry water for Big Energy there?  Here’s Bobo:

In this country we’re raised to go for the gusto, to try new things and savor the smorgasbord of life’s possibilities. As Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “The chief work of civilization is just that it makes the means of living more complex. Because more complex and intense intellectual efforts mean a fuller and richer life. That means more life. Life is an end to itself and the only question as to whether it is worth living is whether you have enough of it.”

This striving for fullness and variety has always sparked a counter-impulse toward simplicity and naturalness. Benjamin Franklin wore an old fur cap in Paris to exemplify a natural unaffected virtue.

Henry David Thoreau made a fervent protest out of simplicity. Most Americans lead lives of quiet desperation, he argued. The things they call good, like riches, are really bad. On the other hand, “as you simplify your life the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude; poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

Puritans, Quakers, Orthodox Jews and many other groups have always favored ascetic living and high thinking as a way to clear out those material things that might distract them from humility and grace, compassion and prayer, the spirit and the Lord.

Today’s simplicity movements are different from what they were in the past. Today’s most obvious simplicity impulse is the movement to declutter the home. Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” now ranks at No. 2 on Amazon among the best-selling books of 2015. There are thousands of members of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Magazines and websites are stuffed with tips on how to declutter your living areas. (Everything that can be folded should be folded! Open the mail while standing over the recycling bin!)

Cleaning out the closets and paring down the wardrobe has become a religious ritual for many — a search for serenity, a blow against stress, and a longing for a beauty that is found by pruning away what is not.

The second big tendency in today’s simplicity movement involves mental hygiene: techniques to clean out the email folder and reduce the incoming flow. For example, Mailwise is a mobile email product that cleans out repetitive phrases so you can read your emails more quickly. (Woe to the day they invent a version for newspaper columns.)

As my Times colleague April Lawson points out, many of us are on a wireless hamster wheel, running furiously to keep the inbox in the same place. Something special like a dinner party or a museum visit is hollowed out when your mind is on your screen or at five places at once. After a while there’s an ache from all the scattered shallowness.

So of course there’s a mass movement to combat mental harriedness, the epidemic of A.D.D. all around. Of course there’s a struggle to regain control of your own attention, to set priorities about what you will think about, to see fewer things but to see them more deeply.

One of the troublesome things about today’s simplicity movements is that they are often just alternate forms of consumption. Magazines like Real Simple are sometimes asking you to strip away your stuff so you can buy new, simpler stuff. There’s a whiff of the haute bourgeoisie ethos here — that simplification is not really spiritual or antimaterialism; just a more refined, organic, locally grown and morally status-building form of materialism.

Today’s simplicity movements are also not as philosophically explicit as older ones. The Puritans were stripping away the material for a closer contact with God. Thoreau was stripping away on behalf of a radical philosophy. It’s easy to see what today’s simplifiers are throwing away; it’s not always clear what they are for. It’s not always explicit what rightly directed life they envision.

Still, there’s clearly some process of discovery here. Early in life you choose your identity by getting things. But later in an affluent life you discover or update your identity by throwing away what is no longer useful, true and beautiful. One simplicity expert advised people to take all their books off their shelves and throw them on the floor. Only put back the books that you truly value.

That’s an exercise in identity discovery, an exercise in realizing and then prioritizing your current tastes and beliefs. People who do that may instinctively be seeking higher forms of pruning: being impeccable with your words, parsimonious but strong with your commitments, disciplined about your time, selective about your friendships, moving generally from fragmentation toward unity of purpose. There’s an enviable emotional tranquillity at the end of that road.

In a world of rampant materialism and manifold opportunities, many people these days are apparently learning who they are by choosing what they can do without.

He probably wrote that from one of his “vast spaces for entertaining…”  Now here’s Mr. Nocera:


That’s what we do in Op-Ed: We render informed opinions that we hope are smart and sometimes provocative, backed up by good, old-fashioned shoe leather. I’m heading off to a new assignment, and as I do, please indulge me as I toss off a few last opinions:

Few people are more anti-gun than Michael Bloomberg. And few people are wealthier. According to Forbes, Bloomberg is worth around $40 billion, some of which he spends backing anti-gun candidates and supporting the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. His success, though, has been limited.

How about another approach? I propose that he buy a gun company. Seriously. Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Company both have market capitalizations hovering around $1 billion. Buying one would barely dent Bloomberg’s wallet.

Owning a gun company would allow him to take a different kind of leadership role on issues like improving gun safety and imposing universal background checks. A Bloomberg-owned gun manufacturer could make a smart gun, for instance — that is, a gun that only its owner can use. Gun companies today won’t sell them for fear of retaliation by the National Rifle Association. A Bloomberg-owned gun company has more potential to effect change in the country’s gun culture than anything else I can think of.

I’ve written many columns about education, especially the effort, spearheaded by wealthy philanthropists, to “fix” public education by funding the charter school movement.

Paula McAvoy, the program director for the Center for Ethics and Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — and, I should note, my son Amato’s fiancée — recently suggested a different idea: “Why don’t they spend their money on infrastructure instead?”

Her point is that a broken-down school sends a powerful message to students: “Society doesn’t care about your education.” McAvoy added, “The place where you learn matters.”

A new school sends the opposite message: that the country does care and wants public school students to succeed. A new school is also a huge morale booster, for students and teachers alike. “If you want to fix American education,” McAvoy told me, aiming her remarks at education philanthropists, “how about setting a goal of putting every kid into a state-of-the-art school by the year 2025?”

Two of the best ideas I heard as an Op-Ed columnist:

Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute believes that Supreme Court justices should serve one 18-year term, and those terms should be staggered so that one expires every other year. That way, every president would be able to nominate two justices during a four-year term. What difference would this make? Few things have more poisoned our politics than battles over Supreme Court nominees, precisely because they are lifetime appointments. With term limits, the stakes would be lower when a seat is vacated, and maybe, just maybe, our political culture could start to heal.

William Wachtel, a New York lawyer and co-founder of the group Why Tuesday?, believes that elections should be held on the weekend, when most people are not working, instead of Tuesdays, when they are. Tuesday voting, he likes to note, was originally built around farmers’ schedules; today, it is nothing less than a form of discrimination. As I quoted Chris Rock when I wrote about this in 2013, “They don’t want you to vote. If they did, we wouldn’t vote on a Tuesday.”

Why, oh, why won’t the Metropolitan Opera perform “Porgy and Bess”? As I once noted in Sunday Review, it is the greatest American opera ever written, with a half-dozen of the finest songs George Gershwin ever composed. Its mostly black cast would help bring in a more diverse audience, something the Met could use. Whenever I’ve inquired whether Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, is considering “Porgy and Bess,” I’m told that he is — “in the future.” The last time the Met performed it was a quarter-century ago. How much longer are we supposed to wait?

The late South African psychiatrist Mike Russell was among the first to note that smokers “smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar.” Meaning that while nicotine addicts smokers, it is the burning tobacco, with all of the carcinogens the smoke produces, that kills them. I’ve written a lotabout e-cigarettes — maybe excessively so — because I think this point is so important. In demonizing e-cigarettes, the public health community has created a false equivalency between cigarettes and e-cigarettes, a stance I believe is costing lives. E-cigarettes may not be completely safe, but there is no doubt they could save lives if adult smokers could be encouraged to make the switch. And with that, I’ve had my last word on the subject.

I’ve enjoyed writing this column and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. Thank you for your many thoughtful responses, both pro and con. I’m looking forward to engaging with you again soon … from the sports page.

Brooks, Cohen, and Krugman

October 30, 2015

Bobo haz a BIG happy!  In “The Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio Moment” he squeals that the Republicans just picked one capable leader for the House and have another ready for their presidential nomination.  It is to larf.  In the comments “Sudhakar” from St. Louis had this to say:  “Seriously, why does David Brooks still get an editorial column? Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio as leaders is a “pretty excellent outcome”? Marco Rubio actually offering serious tax policy? All of this is dead wrong and shows how clueless David really is.”  Mr. Cohen, in “Ripples of the Iran Deal,” says Iranian- American dialogue is a rebuke to the sterile evasions of Abbas and Netanyahu.  In “Springtime for Grifters” Prof. Krugman says the scammers — some looking for votes, some just to line their pockets — figure their victims won’t believe the truths presented by mainstream media.  Here’s Bobo, and his big happy:

So after all the meshugas on the right over the past few years, the Republicans could wind up with two new leaders going into this election, Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan. That’s a pretty excellent outcome for a party that has shown an amazing tendency to inflict self-harm.

Ryan is the new House speaker and right now Rubio is the most likely presidential nominee. The shape of the presidential campaign is coming into focus. It’s still wise to expect (pray) that the celebrity candidates will fade as the shopping phase ends and the buying phase begins.

Voters don’t have to know the details of their nominee’s agenda, but they have to know that the candidate is capable of having an agenda. Donald Trump and Ben Carson go invisible when the subject of actual governance comes up.

Jeb Bush’s problems are temperamental and thus most likely permanent. He would probably be a very effective president. And he would have been a very effective candidate — but in 1956. These are harsher times.

Ted Cruz looks likely to emerge as the candidate of the disaffected white working class — the noncollege-educated voters who are now registering their alienation and distrust with Trump. But there aren’t enough of those voters in the primary electorate to beat Rubio, and Cruz just isn’t likable enough to build a national campaign around. Rubio, meanwhile, has no natural enemies anywhere in the party, he has truly impressive natural skills and his greatest weakness is his greatest strength: his youth.

While other candidates are repeating the formulas of the 1980s and 1990s, Rubio is a child of this century. He understands that it’s no longer enough to cut taxes and say bad things about government to produce widespread prosperity. In a series of major policy speeches over the past two years (he’s one of the few candidates who actually gives them), Rubio has emphasized that newstructural problems threaten the American dream: technology displacing workers, globalization suppressing wages and the decline of marriage widening inequality.

His proposals reflect this awareness. At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.

For example, Rubio’s tax policy starts where all Republican plans start. He would simplify the tax code, reduce rates and move us toward a consumption-based system by reducing taxes on investment.

But he understands that overall growth no longer translates directly to better wages. He adds a big $2,500 child tax credit that is controversial among conservative economists, but that would make life easier for working families.

His antipoverty programs are the biggest departure from traditional Republicanism. America already spends a fair bit of money aiding the poor — enough to lift most families out of poverty if we simply wrote them checks. But the money flows through a hodgepodge of programs and creates perverse incentives. People are often better off over all if they rely on government rather than getting an entry-level job. As Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute has pointed out, there are two million fewer Americans working today than before the recession and two million more receiving disabilities benefits.

Influenced by Cass’s work, Rubio has tried to offer people who aren’t working some basic security, while also championing wage subsidies that would encourage people to get entry-level jobs. The idea is to reward people who get on the ladder of opportunity, and to compensate for the decline in low-skill wages.

Rubio would reform the earned-income tax credit and extend it to cover childless workers. He would also convert most federal welfare spending into a “flex fund” that would go straight to the states. Rules for these programs would no longer be written in Washington. The state agencies that implement welfare policies would have more freedom to design them. He’d maintain overall welfare spending, adjusting it for inflation and poverty levels, but he’d allow more room for experimentation.

Republican debates rarely touch on education for some reason, but Rubio also has a slew of ideas to reform it. He says the higher education system is controlled by a cartel of well-established institutions that block low-cost competitors from entering the market. He wants student loan costs to be based on an affordable percentage of a person’s income.

Of all the candidates, Rubio has done the most to harvest the work of Reform Conservatism, which has been sweeping through the think tank world. In a year in which many candidates are all marketing, Rubio is a balance of marketing and product.

If Ryan and Rubio do emerge as the party’s two leaders, it will be the wonkiest leadership team in our lifetime. That’s a good thing.

It’s obvious that Bobo has never bothered to read Krugman on either of those clowns.  But that would harsh his mellow…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

There was never any chance the Iran nuclear deal would be hermetic. One of its merits is to condemn the United States and Iran to a relationship, however hostile, over the next decade and a half at least. Now, within months, it has led to Iran’s presence at peace negotiations on Syria. That’s a good thing.

It’s a good thing because no end to the Syrian civil war is possible without the involvement of all the actors. Iran is one, directly and through its surrogate Hezbollah. It’s a good thing because it demonstrates, once again, that defiant Iranian rhetoric is often a distraction from Iranian actions, which may be more pragmatic.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, had ruled out cooperation beyond the nuclear deal. The fact is neither Khamenei, a hard-liner, nor the reformists led by President Hassan Rouhani can ignore the other. Their respective power is in delicate equilibrium, an unusual situation in the 36-year history of the Islamic Republic and one the West must continue to probe.

The Obama administration has ignored the weary Friday-prayer refrain of “Death to America” in order to do business with Tehran. That was smart. If Israel displayed similar pragmatism, and a similar capacity to ignore vile Iranian outbursts, it would come to the conclusion that a deal that has reversed the direction of Iran’s nuclear program for the first time in many years and bound Iran to a verifiable bomb-preventing international contract is in its interest.

But Iran has long been a useful distraction from Israel’s core problem, Palestine. Iran is far away from Jerusalem and Iranians seldom think about Israel. Ramallah is very close to Jerusalem and Palestinians think about Israel all the time. Sometimes they rise in fury against their overlord and wield knives.

Oppressed people will do such things. The oppression does not make random Palestinian stabbings of Israelis defensible. They are vicious crimes against innocent people. But it makes them understandable. Violence is the other face of the so-called status quo that Prime MinisterBenjamin Netanyahu believes to be in Israel’s interest. Violence is inextricable from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that is almost a half-century old. Stateless non-citizens, living behind a high-tech wall among colonial settler garrisons, will not all acquiesce to their fate.

Palestinian violence and provocations can no more be an excuse for Israel’s status-quo policy than Iranian outbursts. Serious negotiation, serious diplomacy, can change dangerous situations — slowly and painfully.

No sentient human being can contemplate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today and not feel disgust at its cynicism. It defies words. Every word has been exhausted on its blood-soaked sterility. President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have played games while their people die — and while President Obama and Rouhani negotiated a transformative deal that is an admonishment to them both.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Netanyahu recently saying that “we will forever live by the sword” and that he does not want a binational state but “we need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future.” All the territory is binational. Therefore to control it in the way Netanyahu envisages, democracy must be sacrificed. The Jewish and democratic state of Israel withers.

The Palestinian leadership thinks it is playing a long game. It should look at the history of the last 68 years to see what such long games yield. Palestine withers. That is a historic fact.

History and narratives are dangerous things in the Holy Land. That has long been so. But Netanyahu’s outrageous suggestion that the grand mufti of Jerusalem gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jewry (when about a million European Jews were already dead in the Baltic states and elsewhere) represents a new low. Netanyahu has a hard time with history. He compared Yitzhak Rabin to Chamberlain and he called the Iran deal “a historic mistake.

This is what happens when history is a tool in the cynical kick-the-can-down-the-road pursuit of status-quo Israeli dominance.

The course of history can be changed. Iran’s presence at the table will not alter the fact that any end to the Syrian war is unlikely. The forces driving the war — a region-wide Sunni-Shiite confrontation, jihadi fundamentalism, the reactionary desperation of the old mukhabarat-controlled Arab state, the Kurdish question, sectarian enmity, and the thirst of many Syrian people for reform — are greater than the capacity of a fractured country to control them.

The war has gone too far. Backed by Iran and Russia, President Bashar al-Assad started killing his people on day one. His purpose has been to radicalize, portray himself as the murderer-savior. In a way, he has succeeded.

Still, Iran’s involvement, side-by-side with Russia and the United States, as well as other European and regional powers, is positive. The right people are at the table. For Israel-Palestine there is no table. There is nothing but more of the same. There is nothing but dangerous fantasies.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

At one point during Wednesday’s Republican debate, Ben Carson was asked about his involvement with Mannatech, a nutritional supplements company that makes outlandish claims about its products and has been forced to pay $7 million to settle a deceptive-practices lawsuit. The audience booed, and Mr. Carson denied being involved with the company. Both reactions tell you a lot about the driving forces behind modern American politics.

As it happens, Mr. Carson lied. He has indeed been deeply involved with Mannatech, and has done a lot to help promote its merchandise. PolitiFact quickly rated his claim false, without qualification. But the Republican base doesn’t want to hear about it, and the candidate apparently believes, probably correctly, that he can simply brazen it out. These days, in his party, being an obvious grifter isn’t a liability, and may even be an asset.

And this doesn’t just go for outsider candidates like Mr. Carson and Donald Trump. Insider politicians like Marco Rubio are simply engaged in a different, classier kind of scam — and they are empowered in part by the way the grifters have defined respectability down.

About the grifters: Start with the lowest level, in which marketers use political affinity to sell get-rich-quick schemes, miracle cures, and suchlike. That’s the Carson phenomenon, and it’s just the latest example of a long tradition. As the historian Rick Perlstein documents, a “strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers” goes back half a century. Direct-mail marketing using addresses culled from political campaigns has given way to email, but the game remains the same.

At a somewhat higher level are marketing campaigns more or less tied to what purports to be policy analysis. Right-wing warnings of imminent hyperinflation, coupled with demands that we return to the gold standard, were fanned by media figures like Glenn Beck, who used his show to promote Goldline, a firm selling gold coins and bars at, um, inflated prices. Sure enough, Mr. Beck has been a vocal backer of Ted Cruz, who has made a return to gold one of his signature policy positions.

Oh, and former Congressman Ron Paul, who has spent decades warning of runaway inflation and is undaunted by its failure to materialize, is very much in the business of selling books and videos showing how you, too, can protect yourself from the coming financial disaster.

At a higher level still are operations that are in principle engaging in political activity, but mainly seem to be generating income for their organizers. Last week The Times published an investigative report on some political action committees raising money in the name of anti-establishment conservative causes. The report found that the bulk of the money these PACs raise ends up going to cover administrative costs and consultants’ fees, very little to their ostensible purpose. For example, only 14 percent of what the Tea Party Leadership Fund spends is “candidate focused.”

You might think that such revelations would be politically devastating. But the targets of such schemes know, just know, that the liberal mainstream media can’t be trusted, that when it reports negative stories about conservative heroes it’s just out to suppress people who are telling the real truth. It’s a closed information loop, and can’t be broken.

And a lot of people live inside that closed loop. Current estimates say that Mr. Carson, Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz together have the support of around 60 percent of Republican voters.

Furthermore, the success of the grifters has a profound effect on the whole party. As I said, it defines respectability down.

Consider Mr. Rubio, who has emerged as the leading conventional candidate thanks to Jeb Bush’s utter haplessness. There was a time when Mr. Rubio’s insistence that $6 trillion in tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves would have marked him as deeply unserious, especially given the way his party has been harping on the evils of budget deficits. Even George W. Bush, during the 2000 campaign, at least pretended to be engaged in conventional budgeting, handing back part of a projected budget surplus.

But the Republican base doesn’t care what the mainstream media says. Indeed, after Wednesday’s debate the Internet was full of claims that John Harwood, one of the moderators, lied about Mr. Rubio’s tax plan. (He didn’t.) And in any case, Mr. Rubio sounds sensible compared to the likes of Mr. Carson and Mr. Trump. So there’s no penalty for his fiscal fantasies.

The point is that we shouldn’t ask whether the G.O.P. will eventually nominate someone in the habit of saying things that are demonstrably untrue, and counting on political loyalists not to notice. The only question is what kind of scam it will be.

Maybe Bobo will take the time to read this piece by Prof. Krugman, but since he’s inside the bubble…

Brooks and Nocera

October 27, 2015

Bobo has decided to deal in an oxymoron today, with an emphasis on “moron.”  In “A Sensible Version of Donald Trump” [snort] he gurgles that a superior outsider — not just from outside the political system, like Trump, but outside partisan thinking — could offer a great deal to America.  In the comments “Expat Annie” had this to say:  “The problem — and you know it, Mr. Brooks — is that there is no such fantasy candidate waiting in the wings. And even if there were, that person would not have a chance, nor would any of the programs you have suggested, for the simple reason that they all cost money — and the Republicans have shown quite clearly over the past years that they are not interested in investing in society or improving anyone’s lot (except for that of their wealthy benefactors). Their specialty, in the meantime, is tearing things down. No way would they agree to invest a dime in any of the things outlined here.”  Mr. Nocera has a question:  “Is Valeant Pharmaceuticals the Next Enron?”  He says allegations about Valeant’s practices and its own disclosures while under pressure cause one to wonder.  Here’s Bobo:

The voters, especially on the Republican side, seem to be despising experience this year and are looking for outsiders. Hence we have the rise of Donald Trump and Ben Carson. People like me keep predicting that these implausibles will collapse, but so far, as someone tweeted, they keep collapsing upward.

But imagine if we had a sensible Trump in the race. Suppose there was some former general or business leader with impeccable outsider status but also a steady temperament, deep knowledge and good sense.

What would that person sound like? Maybe something like this:

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m no politician. I’m just a boring guy who knows how to run things. But I’ve been paying close attention and it seems to me that of all the problems that face the nation, two stand out. The first is that we have a polarized, dysfunctional, semi-corrupt political culture that prevents us from getting anything done. To reverse that gridlock we’ve got to find some policy area where there’s a basis for bipartisan action.

The second big problem is that things are going badly for those in the lower half of the income distribution. People with less education are seeing their wages fall, their men drop out of the labor force, their marriage rates plummet and their social networks dissolve.

The first piece of good news is that conservative and progressive writers see this reality similarly, which is a rare thing these days. The second piece of good news is that we have new research that suggests fresh ways to address this problem, ways that may appeal to both Democrats and Republicans.

The studies I’m talking about were done at Harvard by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Lawrence Katz. They looked at the results of a Clinton-era program called Moving to Opportunity, which took poor families and moved them to middle-class neighborhoods. At first the results were disappointing. The families who moved didn’t see their earnings rise. Their kids didn’t do much better in school.

But as years went by and newer data accumulated, different and more promising results came in. Children who were raised in better environments had remarkable earnings gains. The girls raised in the better neighborhoods were more likely to marry and raise their own children in two-parent homes.

The first implication of this research is that neighborhood matters a lot. When we think about ways to improve the lot of the working class, it’s insufficient to just help individuals and families. We have to improve entire neighborhoods.

Second, the research reminds us that to improve conditions for the working class it’s necessary to both create jobs and improve culture. Every time conservatives say culture plays a large role in limiting mobility, progressives accuse them of blaming the victim.

But this research shows the importance of environment. The younger the children were when they moved to these middle-class environments, the more their outcomes improved. It’s likely they benefited from being in environments with different norms, with more information about how to thrive, with few traumatic events down the block.

I know the professional politicians are going to want to continue their wars, but I see an opportunity: We launch a series of initiatives to create environments of opportunity in middle-, working- and lower-class neighborhoods.


This will mean doing some things Republicans like. We’ve got to devolve a lot of power from Washington back to local communities. These neighborhoods can’t thrive if they are not responsible for themselves. Then we’ve got to expand charter schools. The best charter schools radiate diverse but strong cultures of achievement. Locally administered social entrepreneurship funds could help churches and other groups expand their influence.

This will mean doing some things Democrats like. We’ve got to reform and expand early childhood education programs, complete with wraparound programs for parents. They would turn into community hubs. Infrastructure programs could increase employment.

Basically we’ve got to get socialist. No, I don’t mean the way Bernie Sanders is a socialist. He’s a statist, not a socialist. I mean we have to put the quality of the social fabric at the center of our politics. And we’ve got to get personalist: to treat people as full human beings, not just economic units you fix by writing checks.

Then we’ve got to get integrationist, to integrate different races and classes through national service and school and relocation vouchers. And finally, we have to get a little moralistic. There are certain patterns of behavior, like marrying before you have kids and sticking around to parent the kids you conceive, that contribute to better communities.

Look, I don’t know if I’m red or blue. If you want a true outsider, don’t just pick someone outside the political system. Pick someone outside the rigid partisan mentalities that are the real problem here.

Bobo doesn’t know if he’s red or blue?  I had no idea the poor bastard was color blind…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

Valeant Pharmaceuticals is a sleazy company.

Although it existed as a relatively small company before 2010, it did a deal that year that put it on the map. The deal was with Biovail, one of Canada’s largest drugmakers — and a company that had run afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In 2008, the S.E.C. sued Biovail for “repeatedly” overstating earnings and “actively” misleading investors. Biovail settled the case for $10 million.

As it happens, 2008 was the same year that a management consultant named J. Michael Pearson became Valeant’s chief executive. Pearson had an unusual idea about how to grow a modern pharmaceutical company. The pharma business model has long called for a hefty percentage of revenue to be spent on company scientists who try to develop new drugs. The failure rate is high — but a successful new drug can generate over $1 billion in annual revenue, which makes up for a lot of failures.

Pearson didn’t have much patience for research and development. And while he certainly wanted moneymaking drugs, he didn’t really need blockbusters to make his business model work. His plan was to acquire pharmaceutical companies, fire most of their scientists and jack up the price of their drugs. Biovail gave him the heft to put his plan in action.

And so he has done, to the delight of Valeant’s shareholders, and the dismay of most everyone else.

Before Pearson took control of Valeant, it spent 14 percent of its revenue developing new drugs. Last year, that number was under 3 percent. Meanwhile, Pearson has been ruthless about price hikes; in February, according to The Wall Street Journal, the company raised the price of one heart drug by 525 and another by 212 percent — on the very day it acquired the rights to the drugs. Complaints from patients, doctors and insurance companies have prompted investigations by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts and New York.

In the seven years Pearson has run the company, Valeant has done more than 100 deals. Its growth has been supercharged, and so has its stock price. Pearson has become a billionaire.

Fast forward to Oct. 19. During a conference call with investors, Valeant disclosed a relationship with a specialty pharmacy called Philidor RX Services, a relationship in which Philidor seemingly does business with no one besides Valeant, and that is so close that Valeant consolidates Philidor’s financials while holding Philidor’s inventory on its books. During the call, Valeant also disclosed that it had paid for an option to buy Philidor, though it had not actually made the purchase — a very strange deal indeed.

It made these disclosures because Roddy Boyd, a former New York Post reporter who now runs the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, had found out about the Philidor relationship and begun asking questions. So had several Wall Street critics of the company, including John Hemptonof Bronte Capital.

Valeant’s disclosures last week — along with subsequent allegations by Citron Research that Valeant was cooking the books — as well as stories by Boyd and several others have caused the stock to tank.

On Monday, Pearson and his executive team held a lengthy conference call with investors in which they insisted Valeant had complied with “applicable law.” But Valeant also announced that a committee of the board would investigate the ties with Philidor. And it urged the S.E.C. to investigate Citron. This was also a tactic Biovail once used to silence its critics; it backfired spectacularly when the S.E.C. concluded that the critics were the ones who had it right.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand all the implications of the Philidor-Valeant relationship, or whether anything genuinely illegal has taken place. But the whole thing looks pretty, well, sleazy.

As The Times’s Andrew Pollack pointed out last week, Valeant uses Philidor to keep patients from getting generics instead of its high-priced drugs. Philidor negotiates directly with the insurance companies, saving patients from feeling the sticker shock their price hikes would otherwise cause. The co-pay is often waived, which only adds to the allure of using Philidor.

The evidence strongly suggests that Philidor is controlled by Valeant, even though it is supposed to be an independent company. The Wall Street Journal reported that certain Valeant employees work at Philidor using fake names.

But why? And why did Valeant fail to disclose the relationship for so long? If there was really nothing wrong, why did Valeant keep it a secret? Why, even now, are there more questions than answers?

Maybe it will all turn out to be innocent. But I remember another company that Wall Street once swooned over, a company that had eye-popping growth, but also had secrets, which eventually destroyed it.

You probably remember that company, too. Its name was Enron.

Brooks and Krugman

October 23, 2015

Oh, lordy help us all, Bobo just LURVES him some Lady Gaga.  In “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion” he babbles that those who immerse themselves in their pursuits show courage in exploring their inner selves and in getting past worrying about what others think.  In the comments “David Henry” from Walden Pond sums it up for us:  “Pop psychology from Mr. Brooks: undefined terms, misty
ruminations, and simplistic assumptions.”  In other words, a typical Bobo offering.  Prof. Krugman, in “Keynes Comes to Canada,” says the Liberal platform that Justin Trudeau won with promises a break with recent Western fiscal orthodoxy on public spending.  Here’s Bobo:

Earlier this week I watched some young musicians perform Lady Gaga songs in front of Lady Gaga. As India Carney’s voice rose and swooped during the incredible anthemic versions of her dance hits, Gaga sat enraptured. Her eyes moistened. Occasionally her arms would fling up in amazement. Finally, she just stood up and cheered.

It was at a dinner hosted by Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit organization promoting the arts and arts education. Gaga received an award, along with Sophia Loren, Herbie Hancock and others. Her acceptance speech was as dramatic as the music. Tears flowing, she said that this blessing of respectability was “the best thing that’s ever happened to me.” And she remembered her childhood dreams this way: “I suppose that I didn’t know what I would become, but I always wanted to be extremely brave and I wanted to be a constant reminder to the universe of what passion looks like. What it sounds like. What it feels like.”

That passage stuck in the head and got me thinking. When we talk about living with passion, which is sort of a cliché, what exactly do we mean?

I suppose that people who live with passion start out with an especially intense desire to complete themselves. We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment, to integration and to coherence.

Some people are seized by this task with a fierce longing. Maybe they are propelled by wounds that need urgent healing or by a fear of loneliness or fragmentation. Maybe they are driven by some glorious fantasy to make a mark on the world. But they often have a fervent curiosity about their inner natures and an unquenchable thirst to find some activity that they can pursue wholeheartedly, without reservation.

They construct themselves inwardly by expressing themselves outwardly. Members of the clergy sometimes say they convert themselves from the pulpit. By speaking out their faith, they make themselves faithful. People who live with passion do that. By teaching or singing or writing or nursing or parenting they bring coherence to the scattered impulses we are all born with inside. By doing some outward activity they understand and define themselves. A life of passion happens when an emotional nature meets a consuming vocation.

Another trait that marks them is that they have high levels of both vulnerability and courage. As Martha Nussbaum wrote in her great book “Upheavals of Thought,” to be emotional is to attach yourself to something you value supremely but don’t fully control. To be passionate is to put yourself in danger.

Living with this danger requires a courage that takes two forms. First, people with passion have the courage to dig down and play with their issues. We all have certain core concerns and tender spots that preoccupy us through life. Writers and artists may change styles over the course of their careers, but most of them are turning over the same few preoccupations in different ways. For Lady Gaga fame and body issues predominate — images of mutilation recur throughout her videos. She is always being hurt or thrown off balconies.

Passionate people often discover themselves through play. Whether scientists, entrepreneurs, cooks or artists, they explore their issues the way children explore the possibilities of Play-Doh. They use imagination to open up possibilities and understand their emotional histories. They delight in new ways to express themselves, expand their personalities and move toward their goals. Gaga, to continue with today’s example, has always had a sense of humor about her projects, about the things that frighten and delight her.

Second, people with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon. We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.

As the saying goes, they somehow get on the other side of fear. They get beyond that fog that is scary to approach. Once through it they have more freedom to navigate. They opt out of things that are repetitive, routine and deadening. There’s even sometimes a certain recklessness there, a willingness to throw their imperfect selves out into public view while not really thinking beforehand how people might react. Gaga is nothing if not permanently out there; the rare celebrity who is willing to portray herself as a monster, a witch or disturbing cyborg — someone prone to inflicting pain.

Lady Gaga is her own unique creature, whom no one could copy. But she is indisputably a person who lives an amplified life, who throws her contradictions out there, who makes herself a work of art. People like that confront the rest of us with the question a friend of mine perpetually asks: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

And if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be?   Here’s Prof. Krugman:

Canada has a reputation for dullness. Back in the 1980s The New Republic famously declared “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative” the world’s most boring headline. Yet when it comes to economic policy the reputation is undeserved: Canada has surprisingly often been the place where the future happens first.

And it’s happening again. On Monday, Canadian voters swept the ruling Conservatives out of power, delivering a stunning victory to the center-left Liberals. And while there are many interesting things about the Liberalplatform, what strikes me most is its clear rejection of the deficit-obsessed austerity orthodoxy that has dominated political discourse across the Western world. The Liberals ran on a frankly, openly Keynesian vision, and won big.

Before I get into the implications, let’s talk about Canada’s long history of quiet economic unorthodoxy, especially on currency policy.

In the 1950s, everyone considered it essential to peg their currency to the U.S. dollar, at whatever cost — everyone except Canada, which let its own dollar fluctuate, and discovered that a floating exchange rate actually worked pretty well. Later, when European nations were scrambling to join the euro — amid predictions that any country refusing to adopt the common currency would pay a severe price — Canada showed that it’s feasible to keep your own money despite close economic ties to a giant neighbor.

Oh, and Canadians were less caught up than the rest of us in the ideology of bank deregulation. As a result, Canada was spared the worst of the 2008 financial crisis.

Which brings us to the issue of deficits and public investment. Here’s what the Liberal Party of Canada platform had to say on the subject: “Interest rates are at historic lows, our current infrastructure is aging rapidly, and our economy is stuck in neutral. Now is the time to invest.”

Does that sound reasonable? It should, because it is. We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest, and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates. It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates, putting those excess savings, not to mention the workers unemployed due to weak demand, to use building things that will improve our future.

Strange to say, however, that hasn’t been happening. Across the advanced world, the modest-size fiscal stimulus programs introduced in 2009 have long since faded away. Since 2010 public investment has been falling as a share of G.D.P. in both Europe and the United States, and it’s now well below pre-crisis levels. Why?

The answer is that in 2010 elite opinion somehow coalesced around the view that deficits, not high unemployment and weak growth, were the great problem facing policy makers. There was never any evidence for this view; after all, those low interest rates showed that markets weren’t at all worried about debt. But never mind — it was what all the important people were saying, and all that you read in much of the financial press. And few politicians were willing to challenge this orthodoxy.

Most notably, those who should have stood up for public spending suffered a striking failure of nerve. Britain’s Labour Party, in particular, essentially accepted Conservative claims that the nation was facing a fiscal crisis, and was reduced to arguing at the margin about what form austerity should take. Even President Obama temporarily began echoing Republican rhetoric about the need to tighten the government’s belt.

And having bought into deficit panic, center-left parties found themselves in an extremely weak position. Austerity rhetoric comes naturally to right-wing politicians, who are always arguing that we can’t afford to help the poor and unlucky (although somehow we’re able to afford tax cuts for the rich). Center-left politicians who endorse austerity, however, find themselves reduced to arguing that they won’t inflict quite as much pain. It’s a losing proposition, politically as well as economically.

Now come Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who are finally willing to say what sensible economists (even at places like the International Monetary Fund) have been saying all along. And they weren’t punished politically — on the contrary, they won a stunning victory.

So will the Liberals put their platform into practice? They should. Interest rates remain incredibly low: Canada can borrow for 10 years at only 1½ percent, and its 30-year inflation-protected bonds yield less than 1 percent. Furthermore, Canada is probably facing an extended period of weak private demand, thanks to low oil prices and the likely deflation of a housing bubble.

Let’s hope, then, that Mr. Trudeau stays with the program. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.

Brooks and Nocera

October 20, 2015

In “Enter the Age of the Outsiders” Bobo moans that one of today’s most worrying big trends is that the more extreme fringe elements of society are on the rise, in domestic politics, global politics, and beyond.  In the comments “David Henry” from Walden Pond sums Bobo  up for us:  “Pop sociology from Mr. Brooks. Undefined terms, misty ruminations, and an undisguised plug for reactionary Cruz.”  In other words, a typical POS from Bobo.  Mr. Nocera, in “Osama Bin Laden’s First Draft,” says Jonathan Mahler’s piece on the Osama bin Laden raid is as much about the nature of journalism as it is about the facts surrounding the event.  Here’s Bobo:

As every schoolchild knows, the gravitational pull of the sun helps hold the planets in their orbits. Gravity from the center lends coherence to the whole solar system.

I mention this because that’s how our political and social systems used to work, but no longer do. In each sphere of life there used to be a few big suns radiating conviction and meaning. The other bodies in orbit were defined by their resistance or attraction to that pull.

But now many of the big suns in our world today lack conviction, while the distant factions at the margins of society are full of passionate intensity. Now the gravitational pull is coming from the edges, in sphere after sphere. Each central establishment, weakened by its own hollowness of meaning, is being ripped apart by the gravitational pull from the fringes.

The same phenomenon can be seen in many areas, but it’s easiest to illustrate in the sphere of politics, both global and domestic.

In the 1990s, the central political institutions radiated confidence, derived from an assumed vision of the post-Cold War world. History would be a slow march toward democratic capitalism. Nations would be bound in peaceful associations like the European Union. The United States would oversee a basic international order.

This vision was materialistic and individualistic. Nations should pursue economic growth and a decent distribution of wealth. If you give individuals access to education and opportunity, they will pursue affluence and personal happiness. They will grow more temperate and “reasonable.”

Since 2000, this vision of the post-Cold War world has received blow after blow. Some of these blows were self-inflicted. Democracy, especially in the United States, has grown dysfunctional. Mass stupidity and greed led to a financial collapse and deprived capitalism of its moral swagger.

But the deeper problem was spiritual. Many people around the world rejected democratic capitalism’s vision of a secular life built around materialism and individual happiness. They sought more intense forms of meaning. Some of them sought meaning in the fanaticisms of sect, tribe, nation, or some stronger and more brutal ideology. In case after case, “reasonableness” has been trampled by behavior and creed that is stronger, darker and less temperate.

A group of well-educated men blew up the World Trade Center. Fanatics flock to the Middle East to behead strangers and apostates. China’s growing affluence hasn’t led to sweetening, but in many areas to nationalistic belligerence. Iran is still committed to its radical eschatology. Russia is led by a cold-eyed thug with a semi-theological vision of his nation’s destiny. He seeks every chance to undermine the world order.

The establishments of the West have not responded to these challenges by doubling down on their vision, by countering fanaticism with gusto. On the contrary, they’ve lost faith in their own capacities of understanding and action. Sensing a loss of confidence in the center, strong-willed people on the edges step forward to take control.

This happens in loud ways in the domestic sphere. The uncertain Republican establishment cannot govern its own marginal members, while those on the edge burn with conviction. Jeb Bush looks wan but Donald Trump radiates confidence.

The Democratic establishment no longer determines party positions; it is pulled along by formerly marginal players like Bernie Sanders.

But the big loss of central confidence is in global governance. The United States is no longer willing to occupy the commanding heights and oversee global order. In region after region, those who are weak in strength but strong in conviction are able to have their way. Vladimir Putin in Crimea, Ukraine and the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad crosses red lines in Syria. The Islamic State spreads in Syria and Iraq. Iranian proxy armies roam the region.

Republicans blame Obama for hesitant and halting policies, but it’s not clear the foreign policy and defense apparatus believes anymore in its own abilities to establish order, or that the American public has any confidence in U.S. effectiveness as a global actor.

Where is this all heading? Maybe those on the fringes of politics really will take over. Say hello to President Ted Cruz. Writing in The American Interest, Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown argues that we are heading toward an “Age of Exhaustion.” Losing confidence in the post-Cold War vision, people will be content to play with their private gadgets and will lose interest in greater striving.

I only have space to add here that the primary problem is mental and spiritual. Some leader has to be able to digest the lessons of the last 15 years and offer a revised charismatic and persuasive sense of America’s historic mission. This mission, both nationalist and universal, would be less individualistic than the gospel of the 1990s, and more realistic about depravity and the way barbarism can spread. It would offer a goal more profound than material comfort.

Regarding Bobo’s first graf…  “The center cannot hold.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”  It’s as though Yeats could see today’s Republicans.   You’d also think that the NYT would tire of Bobo…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

I rise in defense of my colleague Jonathan Mahler.

Mahler’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, titled “What Do We Really Know About Osama bin Laden’s Death?,” grapples with the way journalists on the national security beat covered that singular event. It focuses primarily on two well-known journalists, Mark Bowden and Seymour Hersh. In his article, Mahler raises the possibility that there might have been more to the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 than the narrative that we’ve come to accept as “the real story.”

Bowden, 64, is the author of a number of crackling good tales — “Black Hawk Down” is his best-known book — that take the reader inside dramatic events. Government officials are often key sources. His book about the Bin Laden raid, “The Finish,” which is based on numerous interviews with Washington officials, lays out the narrative that we now all know about how the C.I.A. tracked down Bin Laden in Pakistan, and so on. Bowden is a highly respected journalist, and “The Finish” has only helped cement his reputation.

Hersh, 78, is the legendary investigative reporter who in 1969 broke the news of the My Lai massacre and told the Abu Ghraib prison story 35 years later. For many years, most of his work has appeared in The New Yorker. Last May, however, he published a Bin Laden “counter-narrative” (his word) in The London Review of Books — an article that, as Mahler stresses, was turned down by The New Yorker. Hersh’s 10,000 word article disputed much of the account reported by Bowden as well as by Peter Bergen of CNN, who wrote an earlier book about the raid, “Manhunt.”

Mahler’s story is as much about the nature of journalism as it is about the facts surrounding the Bin Laden raid. Readers get a good sense of when journalists feel they have enough information to publish and when they don’t. Although Mahler gives plenty of space to Hersh’s counter-narrative, it is also clear that he’s not buying most of it. He calls some of Hersh’s claims wild. The famous reporter comes across as a bit of a crank.

But Mahler also raises the possibility that the Bowden-Bergen account may not be the final word: that the government officials who served as sources may have had reason to hold details back, or put a shinier gloss on events than was warranted. This does not strike me as a controversial point to make.

Yet the pushback Mahler has received — from Bowden, from Bergen, and especially in the Twittersphere — has been remarkably vehement. Bowden isn’t just upset with Mahler’s story; he’s furious. When I spoke to him, he denounced it as having bought into “crackpot conspiracy theories.”

“I’ve spent a lifetime trying to figure out how things actually happen,” he said. “Stories like this make me feel that it is a losing battle against pure speculation, and theories that are concocted” out of thin air.

When I asked him whether government officials might have held things back, or distorted the truth, Bowden quickly rejected the idea. He had too many different sources, he said. Too many people would have had to have told him the same set of lies. “It strains credulity to the breaking point.”

But does it? I recall my own experience writing a book about events that took place in the government. In the fall of 2010, Bethany McLean and I published “All The Devils Are Here,” about the 2008 financial crisis. After many interviews with current and former officials at the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, we wrote our account of events that are murky to this day, most obviously why the government let Lehman Brothers fail.

In the intervening five years, new information has come out. Most recently, Ben Bernanke, the former Fed chairman, admitted that he and Hank Paulson, the former Treasury secretary, had been less than forthcomingabout the reasons for Lehman’s failure. That information was not in our book because Bernanke and Paulson withheld it.

Bowden’s book was published 18 months after the Bin Laden raid. All things considered, that is not a lot of time. Having been there myself, it strikes me as inevitable that facts will emerge later that add to — or contradict — the original narrative. Bowden wrote the best book he could under the circumstances; there is no shame in that. To suggest that Bowden may not have been told everything hardly means that The New York Times Magazine is buying into some far-fetched conspiracy theory.

We are lucky to have narratives like “The Finish,” which is a great read and as close to the truth as Bowden could get. But is every fact set in concrete? Surely not. Journalism is “the first rough draft of history,” as the old saying goes. In the modern age, that’s as true for books as for any other form of journalism.


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